I often run into people wondering this very question. I recently answered this and thought I'd share my comments:
For Solaris x86, a lot of the major products are there (Oracle, Sybase, Weblogic, WebSphere, DB2, SAP, CA products, Symantec/Veritas products, Sun JES products, etc.). So from a commercial standpoint, all of the major products are supported. Even for niche products there is support (Matlab, SAS, Tibco, etc.).
For compilers, there's of course Sun Studio which is free:).
There are tons of drivers released (NVidia, Realtek, Adaptec, Broadcom, Emulex, Intel, Lexmark, Marvell, Mylex, Symbios/LSI logic, SysKonnect, Tekram, 4Front Tech, LynnSoft PC Card, etc.). So the driver gap people talk about is bit on the FUD side of things. For other stuff, there are ppl who are writing or porting drivers. A good example would be the wireless support, apci power mgmt, etc. You can find out more here:
Of course there are some holes, like no Adobe Acrobat Reader, bluetooth drivers, no iTunes, etc.. But there is growing demand for Solaris x86 and as such there's $$ to be made:) So if you have something you want on Solaris x86, it's best to talk with the vendor and show there's a demand.
On the free software side, the majority of stuff works. There are sites like Sunfreeware, Blastwave, and of course tools like pkgsrc, ports, etc. You just have to look out for software that is poorly written or was not meant to be portable (like some multimedia stuff for Linux). The gaps are closing pretty fast though!
I remember how it was two years ago, where many of the major products were not supported. But this has changed very quickly. The main drivers are companies who have a lot of Solaris SPARC and want a cheaper solution, but are not interested in Linux or Windows. Interestingly enough, there are a lot of major companies like that. And most of the road blocks today are more political than technical.
Sun and IBM...
So recently Sun and IBM announced a partnership. Some people didn't read the announcement in detail to understand what the partnership is about. But here are the key points:
- It's an OEM agreement where IBM can sell Solaris subscriptions and do Pre-sales on Sun support contracts.
- IBM will support the hardware and work with Sun to insure that it works on their xSeries and BladeCenter x86 gear.
- Sun will do the OS support for the equipment IBM sells with the support contracts.
So this is not Sun trying to exit the hardware business. Solaris x86 is selling well and the majority of the customers getting licenses and buy support for it are on IBM, HP, and Dell equipment. This is not bad news for Sun. It shows that the product works on mainstream x86 servers and that the Solaris market extends beyond the Sun hardware market. This agreement just makes it easier for IBM customers to buy a server or blade and get better Solaris support because Sun and IBM are working together. Of course some people will ask the question, "Well doesn't that mean Sun should give up on hardware?". So which I say, "Uh, hell no!". It just means that there is a wider market for Solaris support and Sun products to be sold to. Microsoft would never have gotten this far if they only sold their software on an IBM box. Not everyone buys from IBM.
Giving customers choice is a powerful thing and for Sun to work with IBM to make things easier for customers is not a bad thing. And besides, the big reason most companies will buy from IBM or HP or Dell when they need an x86 box for Solaris is usually due to customer negotiations they already have in place for their Windows servers. For many companies, it makes sense to buy from one or more vendors to drive the price down. And if you can run all of your OS's on the same hardware, the better it is for your organization. Of course Microsoft has certified it's OS's on the Sun Galaxy servers. So it's a matter of customers working with Sun to lower the costs for all x86 equipment for customers. But it takes two to tango. So Sun has to do it's part to advertise and make companies aware of the choices they have.
Hey, where are the Sun commercials on TV? I know there are lots of banner ads, magazine ads, etc. But it's really the TV commercials that catch the eyes of corporate folks who sign checks. I have seen some great on-line commercials and interviews from Sun. I wish they would put these on their web site.