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Sun NC03 Sun Microsystems is struggling to correct a big mistake - its lack of support for Solaris x86.

Over the past year, Sun has been talking up Solaris x86 more and more. The OS has joined Linux as an option for Sun's growing line of servers using Intel and AMD chips. While once a bastard child within Sun, Solaris x86 has seen its prominence within the company grow to new heights in response to what Sun sees as a missed opportunity.

"One of the biggest mistakes we made a few years back was not supporting Solaris x86," Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president at Sun, said in an interview. "Scott (McNealy) will tell you the same thing."

As the dot-com boom started to take off, Sun could arguably have pushed Solaris x86 market share at a rate close to that of Linux. Sun was selling tons of hardware, giving it a direct route to plenty of customers. Solaris was, and is, more mature than Linux as well. Sun, however, was too busy getting boxes out the door to see the opportunity at the time.

As one of the most successful open source products on the planet, Linux does enjoy a sense of community that Solaris x86 can't match. Schwartz, however, sees the fad of Linux wearing off in big businesses.

"There will be a transition back to Solaris," he said.

This is a typical stance for a Sun employee. While the rest of the non-Microsoft world champions Linux as the OS of the future, Sun continues to try and protect the Solaris franchise. And it's Solaris x86 that is meant to help the franchise grow.

John Loiacono, Sun's operating systems chief, told us that he is hiring in the Solaris x86 unit and trying to repair relationships with large OEMs.

In an odd twist, Alan DuBoff has joined Sun's Solaris x86 team. DuBoff was one of the "Secret Six" group of users that fought Sun to keep support for Solaris x86 high. After battling Sun for months, DuBoff now gets paid to nurture his favorite OS.

To make Solaris x86 a real success, Sun will need more help than just Alan. It could do with some deals with HP, IBM or Dell to promote the OS and this could be tough.

HP has been burned by Sun's soft Solaris x86 support. Pre-acquisition, Compaq had a decent sized Solaris x86 business on its ProLiant servers. When Sun paused in its development of Solaris x86, many of these customers ran for the hills and aren't too thrilled about coming back.

Loiacono said that wooing companies like HP and Dell is proving tough because of past actions, but he is, of course, confident that some deals can be done.

Sun has turned to EBS to help bring OEMs on board. We're tracking this deal and will keep you posted on how many Solaris x86 converts arrive.

In the meantime, Sun has a lot of work ahead of it to make up for old mistakes. We hear the leader of the anti-Solaris x86 movement was pushed out of the company, which is not a bad start. ®

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