Sun hopes to persuade Linux users across to Solaris, by releasing binaries for its OpenSolaris Unix platform next spring, as part of Project Indiana.
The company wants to mimic the Linux distribution model as a way to grow the market for Solaris.
"Over the last five or 10 years, orders of magnitude more people in the world know the Linux environment than know Solaris. This is a problem," said Ian Murdock, Sun's chief OS strategist and a former CTO of the Linux Foundation.
Having already opened Solaris' source code via the OpenSolaris project, Sun will expand its proselytising of the platform by releasing binaries. Project Indiana seeks to combine what Sun described as the best of Solaris - its enterprise-class capabilities, innovation, and backward compatibility - with the best of Linux - its distribution model, community, and its being free and open source.
"Even with open source, the binary platform is the key thing of value," said Murdock.
Pre-releases of Project Indiana are expected to start this fall. Also featured as part of the project will be short release cycles that will offer something downloadable every six months. Developers will get the latest Solaris innovations without having to build the Solaris code.
"The main goal of Indiana is to reorient Solaris around the distribution model," said Murdock.
With the project, Sun is moving to a two-tier development environment in which enterprise customers can get the commercial version of Solaris and developers can access the Indiana binary version.
Indiana was called "a good step" by analyst Tom Kucharvy, senior vice president at Ovum.
"By releasing Indiana as a binary, it has the potential of creating the foundation for a market for add-ons," which would be third-party extensions to the operating environment, Kucharvy said.
With Indiana, Sun does not seek to slow down Linux but to increase exposure for Solaris in a big marketplace, Kucharvy said.
"Well, I think it's too late to significantly slow the momentum of Linux because it's just so established in so many markets," said Kucharvy.
The Indiana variant will feature ease of installation, network-based package management, and Solaris's ZFS (Zettabyte File System) as the default file system. ZFS recaptures states of a system to assist in problem resolution.
Murdock, who noted his number one charge is building developer mind-share for Solaris, stressed Solaris has the edge when it comes to support and compatibility.
"There's very little compatibility between Linux distributions," he said.
While there is competition between Solaris and Linux, it is in the same sense as how Red Hat competes with Debian, said Murdock. "Competition is a healthy thing in a free market," he said. Sun expects Indiana to be deployed in production environments and plans to sell support services for it.
The idea, though, is that developers would stick with Indiana for one or two releases and then the user would move to the enterprise product over time, said Marc Hamilton, Sun vice president of marketing for the Solaris group.
Project Indiana grows the open-source platform, said Murdock. By making the project available, a large number of people can help make the product better, he said. It will serve as a test bed for future Solaris releases.
Acknowledging concerns about potential fragmentation, Murdock said Solaris does not have the problem that Linux has had because anybody can call anything Linux. With Solaris, Indiana will be the reference implementation, and others would have to be compatible with it to call their version Solaris.
Sun has already done this with the Java brand, where multiple implementations must be compatible with the reference implementation, Murdock said.
Processes for reviewing Solaris, however, are moving from behind the Sun firewall to the community, he said.
Hamilton also said the company continues to see rapid adoption of Intel servers running Linux.