Sun is shipping a version of its Java Enterprise System (JES) server software for Red Hat Linux within 60 days. But, at the same time, it has downplayed the operating system as a rival to its own Solaris.

Sun's VP of software Jonathan Schwartz, speaking to reporters, claimed that the performance of Solaris is now "at parity with, or better, than Red Hat" on low-end servers with up to four processors. That applies to systems based on Xeon or Opteron processors in addition to Sun's own SPARC chips, he said.

"The way that we're going to win against Red Hat is that we're going to be better, period," Schwartz added. And Solaris could more than hold its own against Windows on low-end servers.

Sun has neglected the entry-level server market in the past, focusing on large multiprocessor systems, Schwartz acknowledged. But he said Solaris developers have spent the past two years upgrading the OS' performance on low-end machines.

But while competing on one level, there is the upcoming release of JES for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Plus Sun offers Red Hat's software as well as Novell's SUSE Linux for use with its servers. "We're committed to giving people a choice," Schwartz said. "I'm not bashing Red Hat. I'm telling you how we compete against them [with Solaris]."

The Red Hat version of JES will be the first non-Solaris release of the software bundle, and includes Sun's application, portal and directory servers. The bundle, which can be licensed per-employee, was announced last September and began shipping in January.

Versions of JES for Windows and HP-UX are due to follow by year's end, said Steve Borcich, executive director of security marketing at Sun's software unit. The company currently doesn't plan to port the full suite of software to IBM's AIX operating system, he added, citing a lack of demand from customers.

Once the different versions are available, Sun plans to upgrade them simultaneously. And despite the company's continued focus on Solaris as a key competitive asset, Borcich and other executives said they won't favour it for sales of Java Enterprise System. "We just hope that people buy [the software bundle]," noted Joe Keller, marketing VP for Java Web services and tools.

Within the next 60 days, Sun also plans to lay out a road map and release schedule for an expanded set of identity management tools. The new offering will be integrated into JES and include software that Sun acquired when it bought Waveset Technologies in December, Borcich said.

In addition, Schwartz said Sun this month will announce support for converting Microsoft Office macros so they can run on its StarOffice desktop applications. The company also plans to introduce a management console for its Java Desktop System bundle that will give IT managers the ability to disable imported macros for security purposes, he said.