Sun's much-anticipated and delayed has released Solaris 10, declaring the OS free to download for commercial use. An attached services and support plan is clearly devised to undercut arch-rival Red Hat's pricing for its Linux product.

A cloud of confusion, however, remains around the relationship between Solaris and Linux. Some say Sun faces a difficult learning experience that HP and IBM have already gone through: how to speak about a multi-platform strategy without diminishing the value of either platform.

"Sun's relationship with Linux has been alternatively embracing it as the future but also treating it as a competitor to be fought at all costs. The fact it has two different messages coming from two different sides of Sun leaves the impression that they don't really know what to do as a company," said Dan Kusnetzky, IDC analyst.

Solaris 10 is more scalable, performs better, is easier to manage, and costs less than Linux, according to John Loiacono, VP of Sun's software group. "The big thing is that the OS matters again," he said.

In addition to Sun's own Sparc chip, Solaris 10 runs on Intel x86 chips, Xeon, Nocona, and AMD's Opteron processor. "Solaris 10 will run your Linux applications unmodified, without recompiling, and within 3 percent to 5 percent of native speed," Loiacono said. Solaris 10 will cost less than Red Hat or Suse, based on the service subscription contract, he said.

Through aggressive pricing on services and support, Sun is not only trying to undermine Red Hat but also pursuing the more lucrative path. "The industry is moving toward a model where acquisition costs are holding flat or going down for OS bits, yet people still have to buy support. Linux bits are arguably free, but you have to pay for support on an annual basis. That sounds an awful lot like a subscription from Microsoft," said one analyst who requested anonymity.

All the rhetoric about competing with Linux does not mean, however, that Sun is jumping off the Linux bandwagon. "If you choose Linux, my entire middleware platform and desktop products run on Linux. If you want Linux, we'll support that, too," Loiacono said.