Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Sun and multi-OS companies A while ago I wrote about how multi-OS (IBM, Apple to some degree) and single-OS (Microsoft, Sun) companies were different. A reader wrote back with a dissenting opinion. He's a Sun employee, but these are his own thoughts.
Firstly, Apple is not a multi-OS company anymore than Microsoft or Sun is. Sure, Apple has both OSX and previous MacOS versions. But, Microsoft has Pocket PC, Win 95/98/Me, Win2000, and WinXP. Sun has Solaris 2.6/Solaris 7/Solaris 8.

Sun's positioning that they are a single OS company is really just a claim to focus. I remember a previous project (prior to working at Sun) where the choice was between Solaris, AIX, OS/390. Solaris was chosen, primarily because the IBM sales guys spent most of their time trying to discredit the other IBM platforms. The AIX guys spent their time convincing the client that OS/390 wasn't ready for primetime as a web based platform. The mainframe folks were discrediting the reliability of AIX. I've seen other equally bloody battles between the AIX and AS/400 guys.

I do believe that Sun's ability to have one hardware and software platform is a strength. I can use the same binaries on my Ultra10 that I use on the enterprise servers that my clients run. That's a good thing.

But Sun certainly isn't a single OS company as you define them. Not only are they very invested in Linux (http://www.sun.com/linux), but also produce software and hardware for a variety of other platforms. Including Windows (the JVM and iWS come to mind). Plus all of the Java support of non-traditional platforms like set-top boxes and phones. Sun even sells a Linux-based server (the Qube).

IBM is just a little more willing to market its Linux efforts. Is IBM's promotion a good thing for Linux? Sure. Would IBM be doing it if AIX was as successful as Solaris? Probably not. Does IBM sometimes have a lack of focus in its OS and hardware strategy? Yes.
Good points all. My response is that even though Microsoft has many OSes, their strategy is not around interoperation, it's around locking users into a platform and then extending that platform. All their OSes are part of a single-OS strategy, migrate people to and along Windows. Similarly, Sun's strategy focuses around moving users into and through Solaris.

Apple on the other hand, proprietary hardware and all, is such a marginal player that it can't afford to corral customers or pretend at being an entire infrastructure. Apple has to play nice with other vendors. Microsoft does not (and doesn't) and Sun would rather not also.

Internal squabbles between AIX, OS/390, AS/400 are just symptomatic of multiple divisions behaving like they are single-OS vendors, even though IBM's strategy has been to move towards "we'll use whatever OS is best for your needs and get it working with whatever it needs to work with". In the services business, lock-in is based on customer relationships and organization-specific expertise, not software. On the other hard, Sun's "everything would be great if you just used us for everything" is explicitly targeted towards moving businesses into a Sun environment and locking them in. IBM no longer controls any major platform, and they're OK with that. (And the Qube is a great little Internet appliance.)

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