Solaris v. Linux: The “I’m not dead yet” battle

The market has largely converged on two OSes going forward. Unix demand and sales have been giving way according to IDC and others for the past few years. Linux has been and continues to take market and mind share away from it. Most OEMs realize this. There was a legal battle over this, now preparing for the fat lady with the Viking hat to start belting out her tune.

And in a Monty Python-esque manner, one of the combatants says “I’m not dead yet, I think I will go for a walk”. Or maybe they are like the black knight at the bridge and say “tis but a scratch”.

Uh huh.

Sun, with their great record on Java working the same everywhere, as long as you don’t run on IA64, PPC, 64 bit anything, … wants to do the same for you with their OS. Thats right, they want to out-Linux Linux.

Linux, which runs everywhere (and I mean everywhere from cell phones to supercomputers) is being challenged by Solaris (well, OpenSolaris) which runs, well, on Sun approved ABIs/hardware. Lets let this sink in for a bit.

I couldn’t get a working driver for an extremely common NIC a year ago. And yet this is going to challenge Linux.

Its installation was horrible. Reminded me of old ancient Unix installations. Tuning it, configuring it was, again, hard. Installing software was, again, hard.

Ummm…. this is going to challenge Linux?

I have a question. Precisely how?

Linux has the driver mind share, the developer mind share (one platform to build for across a huge range of target delivery machines), the media mindshare.

Solaris is a throwback to the bad old days of a divided Unix. Theirs was “better” all the vendors would say. Yeah, and largely source level incompatible too.

Again, how, precisely, will Solaris challenge Linux? By offering more of the same?

ISVs, the people who write software, have to support it and sell it, have been clamoring to get off the zillion unix edition for a really long time. They are not thrilled with the prospect of Yet-Another-Platform. This is part of the reason why, despite press releases to the contrary, Microsoft is having so many problems getting ports to CCS. If the apps run on windows, why should the vendor port? It adds time and cost, with little benefit (none really, as CCS is not driving volume/large business). Solaris faces this issue and worse. It already runs on Linux, and customers are adopting this, in droves (see IDC for data).

Solaris is a legacy OS, still used in some areas, though, at every customer we work with and sell to, it is being cordoned off and phased out, in favor of Linux, with maybe one or two exceptions. In some part this is due to the costs of running it, in other part it is due to the high cost of software on Solaris. Absent Sun funding development efforts, the ISVs have no choice but to charge higher costs to the customer for the same product on Linux. We have just run into this in a number of reseller scenarios, where our cost from the ISV was 2x or more for the Solaris version of the same thing as the Linux version.

Again, precisely how will Solaris challenge Linux?

On drivers, Linux has won this, hands down. After installing my Dell laptop, and quite a few other machines now with both Windows XP and Linux, IMO, Linux wins the driver battle against windows XP as well. Solaris isn’t even visible in most cases.

On ISV market share, Linux has won this. Consolidation has closed off extra non/marginal-revenue ports (AIX, IRIX, HP-UX, Solaris) in favor of growing ports (Linux). This is what drives the market on the supply side.

This game was over a long time ago. The winner had been declared by the market. Unless an amazingly compelling case can be made for Solaris everywhere, from Cell phones through Supercomputers*, I expect that this decision will stand.

* Note: about a year ago I compared a highly optimized Solaris binary versus a moderately optimized Linux binary running on the same physical hardware, performing a HMMer calculation. Despite assurances that I was doing the right thing with the Solaris Studio compilers, the Linux binary was about 30% faster than the best effort Solaris binary. On the same exact source code, with the same exact input decks, on the same exact hardware. I dual booted the machine.

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