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Q&A: Sun exec aims to close Solaris 'usability gap'

By Robert Mullins
March 28, 2007 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Ian Murdock says he drew a lot of puzzled looks from his colleagues in the Linux community when he joined Sun Microsystems Inc. in its newly created position of chief operating platforms officer. "What's a Linux guy doing at Sun?" he was asked.

After all, Ian Murdock is the "Ian" in Debian Linux, the distribution he created with his wife, Deb.

Only eight days into his new job, Murdock spoke on Tuesday at a software developers' forum in Santa Clara, Calif. Murdock, 33, outlined what he thinks needs to be done in his new job. An edited transcript follows.

What do you think it means that people ask why you, a Linux guy, are working for Sun? 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, so why argue with that? So we can do a better job of articulating the Solaris strategy.

You say you want to make Solaris look like or be as appealing as Linux. What are the issues with Solaris you have to confront? 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. I thought that before I came to Sun, so it's not just the company line. But at the same time, as a Linux user, I download Solaris and install it, and my first thought is it seems like it's where Linux was 10 years ago [in terms of] installation, packaging and just 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, could we take all that stuff above Linux and put it above Solaris in a way that does not leave behind all of all the differentiating features of Solaris?

[Differentiating features of Solaris, Murdock said, include DTrace, the feature for troubleshooting system problems in real time, and ZFS, Solaris' file management system. Linux's main shortcoming, he continued, is backwards-compatibility. With various flavors of Linux from Red Hat Inc., Novell Inc. and others, all with disparate update schedules, it's hard for application developers to maintain backwards compatibility with all the different versions. "I cannot stress that enough coming from Linux," he said.]

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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