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Lost in Cyberspace

Sun gets into operating system battle with Windows

This article was originally published on April 18, 2000 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The previous column looked at Microsoft's success 15 years ago in squashing any threats to its dominance of the personal computer operating system market. Early competitors that would run on the same Intel-based PCs as Microsoft's Windows, such as GEM and Geoworks, were kept from getting a beachhead in the market by Microsoft's clever and aggressive use of its licensing contracts with computer manufacturers.

Today, Microsoft faces new threats in the OS arena, particularly from Linux. Linux was covered in an earlier column which listed many sites where one can go for information or support; the only thing to add to that column is that Corel is now a major player in the Linux world, offering both its own version of Linux and a Linux version of WordPerfect's suite.

To learn more:
GEM (MagiC)
Geoworks (NewDeal)
Solaris 8

While many of the other operating systems for the Intel platform suffer a severe lack of applications that will run on them (BeOS, OS-9, OS/2, and the descendants of GEM – MagiC – and Geoworks – NewDeal), there is one other alternative besides Linux offering realistic dependability, support and software availability.

Sun's Solaris 8 for Intel is available for $75, which Sun says is only to cover shipping and media costs. It is a full-fledged operating system, much more powerful than Windows 98 (or even the server versions of Windows, Windows NT and Windows 2000, the latest version of NT).

For that $75, you get not only an operating system (which is all Microsoft offers for about the same price, or a little more), but StarOffice 5.1 and Netscape 4.7. StarOffice comes with a spreadsheet, a word processor, html> editor and graphics program. Netscape comes with both a browser and a mail client (plus a news reader). Between them, you have everything you really need to start using your computer.

To be sure, Solaris 8 is nowhere near as user-friendly as a Mac or Windows 95/98. While the graphical user interface offers the now-familiar desktop with icons and folders you control through your mouse (and with a control bar like that of the old NeXT computers), setting up and running programs is more akin to Windows 3.1 than it is to any other contemporary desktops. You still need to do some things manually in Solaris – changing many settings (new user login, for instance, or TCP/IP settings for your Internet account) involves editing text files, rather than the point-and-click menus that Mac and Windows users are used to. It can be fairly intimidating.

Then again, Linux isn't nearly as seamless or easy to use as Windows or Mac, either. Both Solaris and Linux are Unix-based operating systems at the core, and as such there is a definite tradeoff in the accessibility department in exchange for the power and reliability they offer to more knowledgeable users.

But both Solaris 8 and Corel Linux have pretty intuitive install wizards; on a 233 MHz Pentium with 64 megs of RAM, both operating systems installed smoothly and flawlessly.

While you won't find the kinds or number of commercial software packages for Solaris that you will for Windows or a Mac, there are more available programs for Solaris Intel than for, say, BeOS, OS/2 or OS-9. Sun runs a site linking to freeware programs for Solaris at You'll find e-mail programs, graphics viewers and other useful little utilities there, with more being added all the time.