19 September 2002 Unix systems giant Sun Microsystems is to start selling Intel and Linux powered PCs by the end of the year, promising the configuration will undercut the total cost of ownership of Microsoft-based office desktops by over 70%.
The PCs, which have still to be given a brand name, will be assembled from commodity components that Sun will source from the open market. Sun intends to sell the Linux PCs in units of 100 at a cost of around $1,100 (€1,125) each, with part of that paid upfront and the remainder spread over the lifespan of the PC.
While that unit cost is actually slightly higher than an equivalent machine from Dell or HP, the real cost savings will come from replacing Microsoft software with open source alternatives and from lower administration and support costs.
Aside from the Linux operating system, the PCs will mimic a typical Windows set-up by using the Gnome desktop environment, the Mozilla browser, the StarOffice applications suite and the Evolution clone of Microsoft Outlook.
Administration costs will be reduced by the inclusion in the package of a utility server containing user Sun identity management, messaging and portal software, claims the company. Security will be handled by the inclusion of a Java Card reader with each PC.
A typical cost of ownership over five years would be around $50 per user per month, compared to around $170 in a Windows environment, said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s executive vice president of software.
The PCs will only be available in a single configuration that Sun says will be suitable for users who place relatively unsophisticated demands on their computing environment.
Its move, known internally as the Mad Hatter project, is designed to take advantage of customer reaction to changes to Microsoft’s pricing policies. The mid-year introduction of the company’s Software Assurance licensing programme, which will increase the cost of Windows and Office software for most organisations, has encouraged many to consider alternatives.
This is not the first time that Sun has tried to take on Microsoft. In the mid-1990s, it introduced the JavaStation network computer, a thin client machine designed to run Java-based applications. The machine flopped.
It now feels that the combination of more mature open source software, the pressure on organisations to cut IT costs, and increased Microsoft licence fees have driven demand for an alternative. However, it is not the first PC vendor to produce Linux-only PCs.