Originally Published: Friday, 10 September 1999 Author: Scott Nipp
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Non-X86 Linux

In the microprocessor market, Intel reigns supreme, and this reign is for good reason. The various flavors of Microsoft Windows make up approximately 90 percent of the PC install base worldwide, and Intel has become pretty much synonymous with Windows, hence the common word merge Wintel. Linux, however, is gaining market share at an alarming rate, and Linux runs on every major microprocessor architecture imaginable....

   Page 1 of 1  

In the microprocessor market, Intel reigns supreme, and this reign is for good reason. The various flavors of Microsoft Windows make up approximately 90 percent of the PC install base worldwide, and Intel has become pretty much synonymous with Windows, hence the common word merge Wintel. Linux, however, is gaining market share at an alarming rate, and Linux runs on every major microprocessor architecture imaginable.

Linux has a firmly entrenched presence on the Intel platform. In fact, Linux was originally developed to run on an Intel 80386 processor. Intel has shown great foresight in embracing Linux and contributing to the development efforts surrounding Linux. Intel, for instance, has been working with several other major partners on the Trillian project, which is the port for the upcoming IA-64 Merced processor, Intel's next generation processor. As the support for x86 processors has continued to improve over the years, the support for other microprocessor architectures has not lagged far behind. The x86 platform is still the bread and butter of the existing Linux install base, but the percentage may begin to narrow in the near future. We will begin to take a look at the other big three architectures for which Linux is available, but this list is by far not all inclusive.

The Alpha processor is an outstanding architecture for which Linux is a wonderful option. Compaq, which earlier this year obtained ownership of the Alpha processor through the purchase of Digital Equipment Corporation, is readily supporting Linux on the Alpha processor and views Linux as a vehicle to help boost sales of the Alpha processor. Linux must now play even more significantly into Compaq's strategy for the future of the Alpha processor now that both Microsoft and Compaq have abandoned the porting of Windows 2000 to the Alpha platform. This turn of events restricts the Alpha to only two viable operating systems in the foreseeable future, Linux and Compaq's own Tru64 Unix. Furthermore, Alpha based systems are available from various companies which helps to keep prices down on these systems. The future of the Alpha is very bright where Linux is concerned.

The other major 64-bit processor which is showing great promise under Linux is the UltraSparc series of processors from Sun Microsystems. The UltraSparc platform is similar to the Alpha in that these systems are available from several companies other than Sun promoting good value in these systems. Several major Linux distributions are available for the UltraSparc platform, such as Red Hat and UltraPenguin. The acceptance and availability of these systems gives that much more credibility to running Linux on these machines. The UltraSparc platform is a wonderfully powerful microprocessor architecture which is enjoying great success under Linux. Finally, we come to the Power PC platform. Power PC is somewhat different from the Alpha and UltraSparc platforms in that these systems are much more readily viewed as desktop systems rather than high-end workstations or servers. The major Power PC Linux distribution that I am aware of is Yellow Dog Linux. IBM has recently released the general design for a Power PC motherboard in an Open Source fashion. The specifications for this motherboard are freely available and free of royalties, which will make it possible for a company to bring Power PC based systems to market quickly and affordably. This development could very well lead to the explosion of Linux on the Power PC platform.

While Intel is currently "King of the Hill" in terms of the Linux installed base, and deservedly so with extremely affordable and powerful processors, Linux offers an unprecedented selection when it comes to supported architectures. Intel, Alpha, UltraSparc, Power PC, and many more -- it is now possible to run virtually all of your organization's various platforms on the same operating system. Linux brings you this wide range of basic processor support with the stability, and security inherent to a Unix based operating system. The future of Linux looks very good, and is further enhanced by its lack of being confined to just one or two processors like most commercially developed operating systems.

Scott Nipp is a Technical Analyst at Sprint Paranet. He spends his time there fighting the good fight, advocating Linux to his managers and customers.





   Page 1 of 1