Sun Microsystems launched Solaris 8 Wednesday in a preemptive strike against competition from Microsoft, which will launch its own OS upgrade, Windows 2000, in mid-February. However, Solaris 8 isn't actually shipping yet: Sun says the final code will be available in early March. However, the Solaris 8 announcement did bring with it some interesting news, including the fact that Sun is releasing the product for free (less a $75 media fee), even for commercial use. Historically, Solaris and its licenses could cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the installation. Non-commercial use of Solaris had been free for the past few years, however.

Solaris 8 is designed for Internet-based systems, featuring enhanced scalability, availability, manageability, security and connectivity for mission-critical environments. Web pages are delivered four times as quickly when compared to Solaris 7 and Sun has integrated an LDAP directory into the product.

"CEOs tell me that their number one business worry is that the Internet is stressing traditional IT infrastructures. This past holiday season, they saw firsthand how service levels can make or break a Dot Com business," said Edward J. Zander, the president and COO of Sun Microsystems. "The Solaris 8 Operating Environment delivers service levels that meet the new requirements, while also reducing cost and risk."

With Solaris 8, Sun hopes to reap the rewards of interest in free software by offering an extensive array of service and support programs. The company has launched a Web site for system administrators that will deliver these programs to the public.

"We're moving to a service-driven model to maintain innovation and scale," says Andy Ingram, the vice president of Solaris marketing. "We're giving our communities a free license to use the source, while also providing them with a portfolio of world-class support services to help them .com their businesses. It's a combination that can't be beat."

Solaris 8 will become available on March 5, 2000