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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Its new role as a Linux evangelist could see Sun Microsystems Inc release features found in enterprise-level operating system servers to the open source community.

A senior executive at Palo Alto, California-based Sun last week didn't rule-out the company's possible donation of high-end technologies to the open source community. Technologies would be donated during development of Sun's own brand of Linux.

The announcement marks Sun's increasing participation in Linux and open source. It follows nearly two years of machinations that saw Sun shift from criticism of Linux - calling the software a "bath-tub of code" - to outright support, with last month's launch of the LX50.

LX50 is an x86 Linux server - the company's first full Linux-based offering. The product is based on Raleigh, North Carolina-based Red Hat Corp's own Linux.

Sun appears to be backing LX50 with the rhetoric of a paid-up member of the Linux community. Sun has lately spoke out in support of Linux and open source software such as the Mozilla browser which it believes can form the basis of a desktop alternative to Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp's Office.

Sun has also said its Linux will adhere to the Free Standards Group's Linux Standards Base (LSB) for portability of ISVs applications between competing distributions.

Sun's software group chief technology officer John Fowler said during a briefing last week Sun would "lean towards" 64-bit Linux. This would potentially increase the operating systems' suitability to increased deployment in mission-critical and workstation-style environments.

Fowler did not elaborate on Sun's backing for 64-bit Linux. He conceded, though, Sun's processor strategy and messaging has confused the industry. In an attempt to clarify the position going forward, Fowler said Solaris would remain Sun's datacenter offering.

Fowler said Sun would attempt to differentiate its Linux against rivals by building features on top of the core Red Hat kernel. Such features, he said, could include fault management currently used by Solaris but lacking in Linux.

In doing so, Fowler did not rule out donation by Sun of valuable code to the open source community. Fowler said such a move would effectively mean Sun is repeating its earlier decision to release Network File System (NFS), now commonly adopted.

"We might make [future technologies] available. It depends on how it's licensed," Fowler said. Most open source licensing requires vendors who profit from changes to Linux return changes to the community. These changes can then be picked-up by third parties.

Away from operating systems, Sun has participated in open source communities such as NetBeans.

Fowler said the donation of code would help ensure continued unity of the open source developer community, preventing fragmentation around particular vendors' Linux distributions.

Despite Fowler's focus on software as Sun software's chief technology officer he maintained Sun is a 'systems company'. "[People think] we are either Dell or Microsoft. We are neither. We are neither fish nor fowl," he said.

He conceded, though, a recent re-organization combining operating systems, tools, management software, application servers and tools under vice president Jonathan Schwartz would help product development and strategy.

"Before we had a lot of software organizations and there were a lot of connections that weren't made. A lot of things I have to deal with internally are getting people on the same page," he said.

Fowler added Sun is committed to the Sun ONE Application Server and Studio development tools. "Tools are not something we are going to give-up on. If you don't have tools you don't have developers, and if you can't attract developers you are just a run-time environment," Fowler said.

© ComputerWire

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