Originally Published: Wednesday, 1 September 1999 Author: Jeff Alami
Published to: columnists/Jeff Alami Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux and Merced: The Customer Wins

There's been a lot of talk about Intel's Merced lately. Just yesterday, Intel's President and CEO Craig Barrett demonstrated the Merced processor on a prototype platform. Barrett calls the Merced processor "the ideal engine for e-business." And the success of Merced may very well be guaranteed, with support from a number of hardware and operating system vendors....

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There's been a lot of talk about Intel's Merced lately. Just yesterday, Intel's President and CEO Craig Barrett demonstrated the Merced processor on a prototype platform. Barrett calls the Merced processor "the ideal engine for e-business." And the success of Merced may very well be guaranteed, with support from a number of hardware and operating system vendors.

The Linux kernel is being ported to the IA-64 architecture -- IA-64 being Intel's new 64-bit architecture, which will first be released in the form of the Merced processor. The Trillian project, made up of companies including Cygnus, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, SGI, and VA Linux Systems, is making this porting possible. By the time Merced ships, support for the IA-64 architecture will undoubtedly be added to the kernel. Following that would be Linux distributions suited for the IA-64 platform.

Most UNIX vendors are jumping on the Merced bandwagon, too. Compaq is porting Tru64 UNIX to the platform. IBM and SCO is developing Monterey, the successor to their respective UNIX offerings, which will be available on IA-64. HP-UX will be ported. Even Sun Microsystems has expressed interest in supporting the IA-64 platform with the Solaris operating system.

What does this all mean for Linux's future? As Eric Raymond noted in "The Re-Unification of Linux," Linux is proving to be a force for unification among the UNIX vendors. Remember that the UNIX community is fragmented in two ways: the primary hardware architecture and applications support. Most UNIX vendors are supporting the IA-64 platform as the primary supported architecture of their UNIX variant. Now all that's needed is a common set of libraries and binary formats among all of the IA-64 UNIX systems and we have compatibility.

Which common set will become standard? It's most likely that Linux's libraries and binary formats will be adopted. On the x86 platform, Linux applications can run on several UNIX operating systems, including SCO UnixWare, the Free BSD's, and BSD/OS. Linux/Sparc applications can run on Solaris/Sparc. IBM and SCO have announced that Monterey will be able to load Linux applications on the IA-64.

Support of a common standard for libraries and binaries means that there will be a unified UNIX front on the IA-64. Independent software vendors will need only port their applications to one environment (Linux/IA-64) and they will run on all the UNIX systems available for the same architecture. This will undoubtedly make life easier for these vendors, who want to make their development cycles as quick and painless as possible.

What about Windows? A 64-bit of Windows 2000 will be released for the IA-64 platform. A date for such a release is as yet unknown; after all, Microsoft has yet to release Windows 2000 for the x86 platform. It's quite probable that a 64-bit Windows will be available several months after the release of the Merced processor.

Intel is risking the possibility of a 64-bit Windows not being available soon after the release of Merced. A similar problem plagued the Pentium Pro processor in 1993, when no 32-bit Windows platform was available. It took two years for anything 32-bit to come out of Microsoft. Intel's not scared of repeating history, however. With the support of UNIX vendors pushing the Merced into the server room, and the increasingly popular Linux operating system being available, Intel is no longer at the mercy of the Redmond giant. They are now free to develop bigger and better chips, knowing that the operating systems and applications will be there.

With UNIX vendors and Linux consolidating on the IA-64, we can expect to see serious competition on the platform. As always, this sort of competition primarily benefits customers, who will be able to make a choice between operating systems. Linux and the UNIX variants, all capable of loading the same applications, will be available on practically every price range. Microsoft loses its "monopoly factor" on the Intel platform, and the customer wins.

Jeff Alami (jeff@linux.com) is the content manager of Linux.com. In fact, he breathes, eats and sleeps Linux.com. Somebody please help him find a life!





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