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Sun Microsystems has decided to give key customers a sneak peak at future versions of the Solaris operating system, hoping to convince users to stick with the vendor over the long haul.

Sun has put up a Web site for what it calls the Solaris Pilot Program (Update: Sun has since removed the page detailing this Reg exclusive. Imagine that). Armed with a valid account name and password, customers can go to this Web site and download early builds of the upcoming Solaris 10 OS. Sun hopes this will give some of its "bet the company on Solaris" customers a chance to see what is coming down the pipe and to provide them with a new channel for feedback on the code.

As one readers points out, "This is a much more fine-grained beta schedule than what Sun has done in the past."

The Pilot Program is a beta site for what Sun later plans to call Solaris Express - name subject to change.

Giving customers a preview of Solaris mimics a move Sun took earlier this year with its processor business. While usually very secretive about future chips, Sun decided to take the wraps off a host of upcoming multicore processors. Some of the products presented by Sun won't arrive until 2006, so why start talking them up now?

The answer, friends, is simple. Sun wants to prove its hefty research and development budget is not going to waste by showing customers all the goodies it has in store. Your marriage to Sun may be full of quarrels about gimpy processors and the like right now, but counselors have been called in to to hold your hand for the next couple of years. If you stick it out, a second honeymoon is your reward.

Sun has heaps of top-notch technology prepped, but the problem is users need to wait a couple of years before it's all packaged together. The processor bits you know (see above), and we've revealed other key features coming to Solaris and the rest of Sun's software stack. The N1 applications for managing servers and storage systems are trickling out and should start to take better shape in a year or two. There are plenty of reasons to hope.

Sun's biggest problem, however, will be making sure that it can hold onto as many customers as possible in the next couple of years. Some flighty types might see HP or IBM as better long-term bets and jump ship. It's not that HP or IBM have better technology as such, they're just a hell of a lot larger. Sun is the rebel and always has been. This makes some CIOs nervous, especially when tight-fisted CEOs keeping whispering sweet-nothings in their ear. Saying things like, "Don't screw up 'cos it's your ass not mine."

Sun has addressed this problem in the best way it can - almost full disclosure. Nervous users should sign up for Sun Express and see for themselves. Sun says the roadmap is paved in gold.

In the meantime, Sun keeps plugging away on Solaris 9 and is happy to tell the press, and not just its key customers, about the advances.

A new update to Solaris 9 was released this week with three key additions.

Sun has provided the GNOME 2.0 GUI for download on Solaris for months now, but these days users will find it as a standard choice on Solaris installs alongside CDE. The new release also includes a re-tooled Unix file system that can support up to 16TBs on 64bit servers. (Don't forget, Sun offers Solaris x86 for 32bit machines.)

In addition, Solaris now ships with version 2.1 of Solaris Live Upgrade.

As part of the Live Upgrade software, users will be able to convert Veritas volumes over to Solaris volumes with ease, said Bill Moffit, one of Sun's resident Solaris gurus and a fellow Sagehen. Sun has addressed some of the performance issues users had with the Solaris Volume Manager in the hopes that it will be a bit more appealing to customers especially on lower end kit. ®

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