Despite all the recent talk about Sun Microsystems entering the Linux distribution fray, Sun insiders tell us "Sun Linux" (or whatever it will be called) is really just Red Hat rebranded, with a few hardware-specific tweaks, and will neither be available for public download nor sold on CDs for a good while, if ever.
Word within Sun is that no one is really sure yet what CEO Scott McNealy is going to say in his August 13 LinuxWorld keynote address, blandly titled The Role of Linux in a Capitalist Society, or in the accompanying Sun press conferences and press briefings. However, there is reasonable certainty that McNealy will not announce a Sun-branded, standalone Linux distribution.
It appears, so far, that all the recent "Sun is going to offer Linux" hoopla comes down to a new box, preloaded with Linux, that is targeted at the edge and grid/cluster server market. It is supposed to be a dual-i86 piece, fast but no world beater, that will be sold at "white box" prices even though it will carry the Sun brand name. The purpose of this new model is obviously to recapture the business Sun is losing to server vendors that install Linux on generic boxes and undercut Sun's traditional Unix-based, high-powered servers on the TCO front.
In other words, someone at Sun has been reading all of those "Linux is hurting Sun more than it's hurting Microsoft in the server marketplace" articles you've seen all over the tech media for the last year, and has decided to do something about it.
If you can't beat them, almost join them
Word is, Sun has talked with Red Hat about offering official, licensed Red Hat Linux on Sun's new (branded) white boxes, but balked at paying fees to use Red Hat's name, so Sun will come up with its own name for the flavor of Linux it loads on its new servers.
This is a cautious step into the Linux marketplace.
This first step may not be Sun's last, even if it is the only one Sun makes in the next few months. As another industry insider reminds us, Mandrake started off as a rebranded Red Hat knockoff, and grew from there until, only a few years later, it became a powerful distribution in its own right.
Perhaps this is Sun's plan: to gradually diverge from Red Hat until it has a complete server distribution that will (one would expect) work seamlessly with Solaris and, perhaps, even with thin clients or other desktop devices Sun could easily build using StarOffice as its user-level software base.
This would add an interesting bit of drama to the "Linux in the enterprise" gold rush that has sucked in nearly every hardware and software vendor, besides Microsoft, that has a few employees who can pronounce "Linux" correctly.
No one really knows what Sun plans to do with Linux right now, apparently including Sun's own management. The only thing that seems certain is that, whatever those plans are, we aren't going to get more than a taste of them at the upcoming LinuxWorld.