Sun's McNealy hopes for Intel-like deal with IBM

Sun's McNealy hopes for Intel-like deal with IBM

One day after Sun Microsystems Inc. announced an alliance with Intel Corp., Sun Chairman Scott McNealy was in town openly wishing for something similar with IBM Corp.

McNealy said he would like to see his Solaris operating system run on IBM's Power chip -- something he believes can happen, with or without IBM's help.

"We would love to work with IBM," said McNealy, adding that he believes such a move would give users, especially those in mixed environments, more platform options. But even without IBM's help, "we're going to do the slow and steady community development of Solaris on Power."

Sun and Intel officials said Monday that they have agreed on joint engineering development plans to optimize Solaris on Intel's processors. Sun will also sell a line of Intel-based systems along with its Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron-based systems. "Solaris would be a wonderful arrow in the quiver of the Power server group to have, and I think it would open up the market significantly for the Power processor," McNealy said.

The Solaris open-source development community last year said it had ported Solaris to IBM's Power chip. IBM officials were not immediately available for comment.

McNealy was at a Sun-sponsored event Tuesday for partners and customers that was focused on explaining the company's open-source strategy on its software.

One attendee, Dusan Korac, a senior systems administrator with Science Applications International Corp. who works on both Sun and IBM systems, said he would like to see IBM take a course similar to Sun and open up AIX to the developers. Korac works on systems for a federal agency.

Asked about the idea of running Solaris on a Power system, Korac shook his head and said he would probably not be interested in such a configuration. But he does believe that IBM should take a course similar to Sun and open-source the AIX operating system.

In Korac's view, Sun's decision to open-source its operating system was a good move because it now draws in contributions from the development community. Open-sourcing is "how you attract people to work on it," he said.

In other comments at the event, McNealy said the new Intel partnership gives the open-source Solaris a platform on the two major x86-based processor vendors, Intel and AMD, as well as on Sun hardware. He also called the Intel agreement a major step toward wider adoption of Solaris in government agencies and large businesses.

Sun will not push Intel over AMD or vice versa, McNealy said during a news conference after his speech. "Some people are Ford folks, and some people are Chevy folks," he said. "We're not going to make them choose."

Sun launched a line of servers using AMD chips in late 2003, but it expects AMD and Intel to "leapfrog each other" with improvements in their processors and price advantages, said Bill Vass, president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems Federal Inc., Sun's government-focused business. Sun's goal is to provide government and other customers with a complete package of software that runs on multiple architectures, Vass said, stressing that Sun's message to customers will be to use the right architecture for the right job.

By releasing Solaris and other software under open-source licenses and by embracing open standards, Sun hopes government customers will see how they can avoid vendor lock-in, McNealy said. He went on to ask the attendees what they would like to see Sun do differently. One audience member said Sun needs to help its customers look at migration strategies to Solaris and other open-source software, "beyond just putting a stake in the ground."

"You're right," McNealy answered. "We can't say, 'Don't do the wrong thing.' We've got to help people where they are today."

McNealy stepped down last April, but said he has frequent contact with his successor, CEO Jonathan Schwartz -- exchanging a dozen e-mails each day and meeting once a week. McNealy said that while he may give Schwartz lots of advice, "one of the reasons Jonathan got the job is because he ignores a lot of it."

Grant Gross of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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