Stephen Shankland for

SAN FRANCISCO In an effort to spur adoption of Solaris, Sun Microsystems has begun a project code-named Indiana to try to give its operating system some of the trappings of Linux.

The project is one of the items on the to-do list of Ian Murdock, founder of the Debian version of Linux and as of March Sun's chief operating systems officer. Though he wouldn't confirm the name of the project, Murdock who's from Indiana discussed the project's essence here at the JavaOne conference here Monday, and Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo confirmed the name.

Sun has been trying for years to restore the luster of Solaris, a version of Unix that peaked in popularity in the late 1990s, but that since has faced a strong challenge chiefly from Linux. Sun has worked to reinvigorate Solaris by boosting its performance, offering it as a free download, making it an open-source project called OpenSolaris, and pushing a version that runs on servers using Intel's and AMD's mainstream x86 processors.

Linux and Solaris are cousins that stem from the same Unix heritage, if not from the same source code. But Linux fans simply have a hard time trying Solaris, Murdock said Tuesday.

"It's too unfamiliar. There's a gulf," Murdock said in an interview. "We need to make it familiar to people who know Linux inside and out."