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Sun's Solaris success paves way for next-gen OS push

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For many months now, a crack team of Sun software engineers have beavered away on a secret project to create the “Solaris of the future.”

Refined details on this effort remain very slim, but we know that Sun's lead kernel engineer – and one of its top brains – Bryan Cantrill has been backing the project. In a recent blog post, Cantrill hinted that his team “is close talking about what we've been up to for the past year.”

Sun's CTO and R&D chief Greg Papadopoulos ordered the work on this software job, which, as we understand it, will result in an OS designed to power massive data centers. Yes, such operating systems perform this function today, but Sun's latest creation is said to be taking OS scaling to a new level.

Complementing this software work, Sun has started looking for ways to push Solaris deeper into the data center – namely the networking layer. Our sources have revealed that Sun hopes to woo Cisco as a long-term partner around this new flavor of Solaris.

Pipe dreams? Perhaps.

At the same time, it's hard to imagine any other company pulling off this type of OS planning.

Microsoft's release of Vista confirms that the company has no intention of innovating on the OS front anytime soon. God forbid, we depend on Red Hat and the open source army to craft a solid, usable OS of the future in a timely fashion. And neither IBM nor HP have demonstrated any interest in pushing their versions of Unix in new and interesting directions.

Plenty of start-ups crank away on file systems, specialized OSes and other virtualized applications that may do something similar to Sun. These companies, however, fail to have the reach or reputation needed to usher in something broad and spectacular in the server OS game.

Even Sun's staunchest critics – those who wonder how the company makes money off Java – would allow the vendor a unique position of prominence, if it can show broad, vibrant interest in Solaris.

The OS does not carry the razzle-dazzle of a new server based on a fresh multi-core chip. Nor do financial analysts translate software downloads into profits as easily as they do hardware shipments.

More savvy types, however, will see that Sun owes its resurgence to Solaris 10 as much as anything else. And a really dramatic turnaround – where Sun cranks up revenue by the billions – will only occur if Sun can maintain and then grow current interest in its venerable OS.

Luckily for Sun, such a Solaris revival now seems like a possibility. ®

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