Ian Murdock says he drew a lot of puzzled looks from colleagues in the Linux community when he joined Sun Microsystems last month as chief operating platforms officer. After all, Murdock is the “Ian” in Debian Linux, the distribution he created with his wife, Deb. Murdock talked about his plans for his new role.

Q: Are some people surprised that a Linux guy would go to work for Sun? A: Sun’s Linux strategy is not well articulated. People who ask why I’m at Sun say, “I thought Sun was anti-Linux.” That’s not true at all. Solaris is the operating system of choice, no doubt at all, but there is a certain part of the market that wants Linux. Why argue with that? We can do a better job of articulating the Solaris strategy.

Q: How can Sun make Solaris look like or be as appealing as Linux? A: I refer to it as the usability gap. Solaris has some great technology, and I think Solaris has innovated more than Linux in the last few years. But at the same time, my first thought is [Solaris] seems like Linux 10 years ago [in terms of] installation, packaging and general usability. It comes down to how do you remove those barriers to adoption so that the truly unique and innovative features of Solaris are what people see.

Some of the desktop-oriented Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, for example, have garnered a tremendous amount of developer mind share. But what people love about Ubuntu is not the Linux kernel, but all of the stuff that lives above it. So we [could] take all that stuff above Linux and put it above Solaris in a way that does not leave behind all of the differentiating features of Solaris.

Q: How much interest does Sun have in connecting with the software development community? A: Very, very high. I think a lot of very good things stem from developer mind share. When I was at Purdue University as a computer science student in the early ’90s, Sun technology was cool and it had the developer mind share. At some point, Linux captured that most-favoured status. As a result, when people start a Web 2.0 company or any start-up, they don’t want to spend their time building infrastructure; they want to get to the application development.

So they reach for what they know, which is Linux, and they use Linux in production. As those companies get bigger, there is opportunity there. Gaining developer mind share [early] gets you in the door at start-ups.