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Red Hat warms to Itanium-booster plan

The leading Linux seller is exploring Intel technology that improves the ability of the chipmaker's Itanium processor to run older software written for Xeon or Pentium chips.

Leading Linux seller Red Hat is looking fondly at an Intel technology that improves the ability of the chipmaker's Itanium processor to run older software written for Xeon or Pentium chips.

The software, called the IA-32 Execution Layer, lets the new 64-bit Itanium processor emulate the two older 32-bit processors' workings. Intel says the technique is faster than the current, little-used approach of sluggish special-purpose circuitry in Itanium, endowing the forthcoming 1.5GHz Itanium 2 6M to run 32-bit software with about the speed of a 1.5GHz Xeon MP.

"Thirty-two bit support across 64-bit systems is important to Red Hat customers, and we are exploring ways to address this across the various architectures we support," Brian Stevens, vice president of operating system development, said in a statement Friday.

Intel's software is a module that becomes part of the kernel, or heart, of Linux, an Intel representative said. Red Hat Linux rival SuSE also will support the technology, and Intel has said Microsoft plans to do so with a Windows version.

Intel expects the software to make a debut in the second half of 2003.