Sun Microsystems has unveiled pricing details for Project Orion, its initiative to simplify the way Sun delivers server software to its customers.
The company also announced pricing for Project Mad Hatter, a stack of open source software which will challenge Microsoft Office.
Project Orion, now known as the Java Enterprise System, packages all of Sun's software infrastructure products together and ships them in synchronised quarterly releases with a simpler licensing model based on the number of employees a company has.
The Java Enterprise System comprises dozens of products including the Sun One application server, directory server and portal server, Sun's clustering software, and products for messaging and calendering.
The first release is due in November, priced at $100 per employee per year, including support during business hours. An extra $10 per employee buys around-the-clock support.
"The complexity of our licensing terms has been outrageous and that's what customers have complained about. The products all had separate skews, licensing terms and pricing terms and every time a customer wanted to purchase one they had to get into a lengthy negotiation procurement process," said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, a senior director of strategic marketing at Sun.
The licensing terms will resolve that issue, she added. The quarterly delivery system should also make Sun's software easier to use, because the products have been integrated and pretested to work with one another.
Analysts said the offering should make the process of buying Sun software easier for its customers. It could also help Sun sell additional infrastructure software to existing customers, said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Current Analysis.
"If the main application you use is supported by Sun and you've already got some of these Sun pieces in house, it will make it very easy for you to go with the rest of the Sun One stack," he said.
However, besides price, customers also look at the technical merits of software and whether their applications are supported, Willett noted. Because of that, the licensing terms are unlikely to have a big impact on Sun's share of the market against the likes of BEA Systems and IBM, Willett said.
"I think it's unrealistic that someone is going to throw out the infrastructure software they have and go with Sun just because of the pricing and favourable licensing terms," he said. One interesting this to see will be whether IBM and BEA alter their pricing in response to Sun's move, he added.
Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk, noted that Sun will charge for its software based only on the number of employees an organisation has, and not on how many customers and partners might be using the software.
That means a company with thousands of customers listed in its directory server, for example, might be able to buy the whole Orion stack for only slightly more than it would pay for one or two pieces of it, making it easier for Sun to "sell up" to those customers.
"The combination of these factors - the licensing model, the new price point, the integration - will force customers, particularly Sun customers, to stand up and say this is a very good deal," O'Grady said.
Sun has worked hard to get all its product development in synch to enable the quarterly releases. Still, the first Orion release will lack a few components including the high-end edition of Sun's application server and its metadirectory server. They will be part of subsequent releases, Van Den Hoogen said.
Customers will still be able to buy the products on an "a la carte" basis after the new system is introduced, she said. The Java Enterprise System will be available first for Solaris on Sparc and Solaris on x86-type processors, with the Linux to follow with the next quarterly release in February.
Meanwhile, Sun's Project Mad Hatter, now called the Java Desktop System, is also priced at $100 per employee per year. It includes a version of Linux, the Gnome desktop environment, Mozilla web browser, Sun's StarOffice productivity suite and several other open-source products.
"It's to address what we believe is the need for an alternative enterprise desktop," Van Den Hoogen said.
Sun is in talks with PC makers to offer systems preloaded with the software, she said, but for now customers will have to buy a PC and install it themselves.
Van Den Hoogen said the cost will still be cheap compared with buying a typical Windows PC, and Sun will provide around-the-clock support for an additional $10.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service