Sun's Linux leader ready to use Linux

Those rare animals at Sun Microsystems Inc. using rival Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system have edged closer to extinction, as the company's head of operating systems has decided the time is right to live the lifestyle and move to Linux.

John Loiacono, vice president of operating platforms at Sun, was spotted using Windows on his corporate laptop last month here at the Sun Network conference. Since that time, Loiacono has moved to Linux on both his work and home computers, as part of a company-wide program to abandon Windows altogether within Sun. With Sun's operating system chief coming up to speed on Linux, the company can bolster its claims that the open source OS's time as a desktop for big business may have come.

"Like everything in life, you usually don't cut over from one thing right to another," Loiacono said. "I am doing the transition process right now."

Loiacono went out and purchased Red Hat Inc.'s version of Linux and created a dual-boot system that allows him to run either Linux or Windows. Most top executives, he said, only need access to an e-mail application, a calendar, a Web browser and a productivity suite, and Linux can provide these tools on par with Windows. Most of these software packages can be accessed via a Web-based interface. This may make it easier for top executives to switch to Linux, in contrast to developers or other employees who depend on specific Windows-based desktop applications to do their job, Loiacono said.

Loiacono's change of heart mimics one currently underway by Sun to embrace Linux alongside its own Solaris operating system. The company had long pushed its customers to use Solaris on everything from small workstations to large servers. Sun, however, changed its course in August, introducing a low-end Linux server, and then went further in September by announcing a Linux desktop computer designed for large businesses. Sun has come out with its own version of Linux aptly named Sun Linux for both the server and the desktop computer. This software, coupled with its StarOffice productivity suite that can open and allow changes to Microsoft Office files, and the open source Mozilla Web browser has made Linux a viable choice for executives, Loiacono said.

Still, Loiacono said in a conversation last month that Windows provided better access to some business applications than Linux, which was a reason he had stayed with a Windows laptop. In a Tuesday interview, Loiacono said the earlier comments referred to better overall support for media applications and plug-ins with Windows that allow more functional software to run.

"Many applications are written to take advantage of plug-ins," Loiacono said, adding that Windows makes better use of this type of technology. "But Linux is catching up with things like multimedia software. There are a lot of media players out there for it."

"I thought I would be the one who said, 'I like all those bells and whistles,'" he said. "But Linux is adequate for me."

Loiacono's gradual shift away from Windows and all of its end user tools had the executive making statements similar to someone recovering from an addiction.

"I don't use Windows every day," he said, proudly.

This is a good sign for Sun's operating system chief, since his company is trying to convince customers that Linux really can provide an alternative to Windows. Loiacono plans to take the next step in his Linux evolution and move from Red Hat to Sun Linux once a new version of the OS is completed.

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Ashlee Vance

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