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Almost two years after it went on hiatus, Sun Microsystems' Solaris x86 has come back in full form with free downloads of the operating system becoming available once again, The Register has discovered.

Some users call Sun's decision to give Solaris x86 away again a small step, but without doubt the move does bring some degree of closure to part of a messy affair. Starting this week, Sun has removed the $20 price-tag for the OS - versions 8 and 9, replacing it with a red FREE sign instead. A fair number of Sun users have kept a close eye on this saga and will remember that it was way back in Jan. of 2002 when Sun first said it would halt development on Solaris x86 only to buckle and bring the OS back at cost.

Big Solaris x86 fan Bruce Riddle wrote, "This is really great news and shows that Sun is committed to Solaris x86," on a message board dedicated to the subject.

And why not pat Sun on the back?

Since giving Solaris x86 users the finger two year ago, Sun has worked rather hard to put the OS for Intel and AMD processors on equal footing with Solaris/Sparc and Linux. Sun has vowed to have its entire enterprise software stack - known as the Java Enterprise System - run on Solaris x86. In addition, Sun now has Athlon, Xeon and, yes, Opteron hardware to run its OS. The Opteron bit is a particular point of interest, as Sun is quickly establishing itself as the premier enterprise Unix supplier for the new chip.

Guns blazing, right?

Well, a rather feisty chap from Penn State University named John Groenveld doesn't think so.

Groenveld owns the title of the most disgruntled Solaris x86 user on the planet and relishes this role. When Sun was trying to back away from the OS, it was Groenveld that gathered funds to place ads in major dailies blasting Sun CEO Scott McNealy for abandoning a very loyal portion of the company's user base. One point of interest there is that some Sun engineers actually helped fund the ads.

Now Groenveld is ready to strike again for what he is calling a "customer service failure at Sun." He is threating to launch another ad campaign.

"The January 8 anniversary (of Sun nixing Solaris x86) is an important date for the community to make this failure clear," he said.

Groenveld is an associate research engineer at Penn State - a university that has been running Solaris x86 in production since the early 1990s. When Sun seemed to waver on the OS, "they left the university in the lurch." And so resentment was born.

What Groenveld wants is direct and consistent answers from what he sees as sparring divisions within Sun - the Solaris stalwarts and the Linux upstarts.

In particular, Groenveld wants to know where copies of StarOffice 7.0 for Solaris x86 are hiding. Over at StarOffice central, you'll notice Solaris x86 seems to be missing from the supported OS list.

It took Sun a few months, but they have promised Groenveld a copy of the office suite for Solaris x86 is coming. He would just like Sun to make this clear in a public fashion to convince those users nervous about Sun's intentions that the product is most certainly on its way.

"Just put it up on the product page so at least people know it will be there eventually," Groenveld said.

Now, there are certain workers within Sun that think Groenveld pushes a bit too hard. The company can't be perfect, and it's doing all it can to get this OS going again, they say.

While this debate is best left between the respective parties, we can say that a tremendous amount of work is going on right now within the Solaris x86 group at Sun and that enthusiasm for the OS from the engineering side seems to be at an all-time high.

Take, for example, Sun's official reason for brining the free download program back.

"Sun recently reviewed its strategy for the downloading of the Solaris OS and the impacts that charging a nominal fee has on a global market," Sun said. "By eliminating the download charge for all versions of Solaris OS, Sun is enabling its many customers that are unable to place orders in US Dollars--for example in Asia and Europe--to download Solaris easily. With the announcement of Sun's alliance with AMD, there is an accelerating global demand for Solaris x86 that can be quickly addressed by improving the download experience for potential customers and evaluators of the Solaris x86 OS for both 32 and 64-bit platforms."

So there you have it, Sun does have guns blazing after all.

It's good to have Groenveld watching Sun, making sure promises are kept. Users should see his enthusiasm for what it is - an unrelenting urge to thrust Solaris on the Wintel world.

While Sun may have its slip ups here and there, the company seems well on its way to making Solaris x86 a solid production platform of choice for Intel and AMD users. ®

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Sun ready to link Solaris x86 boxes into the SAN
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Sun ashamed of Solaris x86 past
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