Sun Microsystems is scaling back its desktop Linux plans, the company said at JavaOne this week.

The decision means that Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS) will in future be marketed less as a Linux platform and more for Solaris and Sun Ray installations aimed at developers, said John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice-president of software, at the San Francisco trade show.

JDS was initially based on Suse Linux, now part of Novell. Sun first introduced a Solaris version of JDS in October 2004. "You can see what we introduced last week as the first step in expanding the platform support for JDS and extending that user interface to Sun products," said Susan Jefferies, product line manager with Sun's User Software Group, at the time. "We're definitely merging to single user interfaces across the product line."

Solaris has undergone something of a renaissance since then, with the release of OpenSolaris under a Sun-authored open source licence, the release of Solaris 10 and IBM's renewed commitment to the platform. Software vendors are showing fresh interest in Solaris, encouraging Sun to put Linux on the back burner, Loiacono said. The move is a matter of "targeting our resources", Loiacono told reporters at JavaOne.

First released in 2003, the Java Desktop System is an integrated bundle of desktop software that includes many of the same components already found in Solaris, including Gnome and the Mozilla browser. The Solaris version of JDS includes usability enhancements and software, like the Evolution groupware client, that were not available in previous versions of Solaris.

Sun's vision of Linux on the desktop won several large customers. In late 2003, the UK government signed a five-year agreement to potentially offer JDS and Java Enterprise System (JES) software to public sector agencies as part of an overall open source push.

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) signed a deal with Sun in June 2004 to switch all its branches' desktops from Windows to JDS. At the same time the government of New South Wales, Australia, agreed to shift 1,500 users from Windows to JDS. In August 2004, the NHS bought 5,000 licences for JDS as an alternative to Windows.

Potentially the biggest deal of all was in late 2003 with the China Standard Software Co (CSSC), a consortium of Chinese government-supported companies set up to bring Linux-based desktops to 200 million Chinese computer users. CSSC also has a technology arrangement with Sun rival Novell.

As OpenSolaris inched toward release, however, the Linux press releases stopped flowing. In April of this year, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz attempted to justify the company's controversial open-source strategy with an attack on the GPL (GNU General Public Licence), which he characterised as a tool allowing United States businesses to pillage developing countries of their intellectual property.

The GPL is used by Linux, Samba and other prominent open source projects. For OpenSolaris and newer open-source efforts Sun has authored its own licence, the Common Development and Distribution License, or CDDL.

Sun has attempted to move with the times by adopting certain aspects of the open-source development model and selling Linux on servers and desktops. But the company's relationship with the open source world has always been ambiguous.

On the news last week that Sun would open-source its Java application server, JBoss CEO Marc Fleury remarked, "The whole thing is irrelevant... What are they going to do now? Fight it out for second place? With IBM?"

Sun made the move to spur interest in its application server, open-source alternatives such as JBoss are already well established.