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Coalition says Linux ready for Intel's upcoming chips

The group, called the Trillian project, publicly releases a version of the operating system that works on the next-generation Itanium microprocessors.

NEW YORK--A Linux coalition called the Trillian project has publicly released a version of the operating system that works on Intel's next-generation microprocessors.

The software now is available to anyone, not just the select few from a handful of companies that currently have worked on the Trillian project, executives at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo said here today.

The Trillian effort began two years ago with David Mosberger's work at HP, the company that developed the architecture used in the upcoming 64-bit Itanium chip. Now the effort has expanded to include IBM, SGI, VA Linux Systems, Intel, Red Hat, Caldera Systems, SuSE, TurboLinux, CERN and Cygnus Solutions, a company acquired by Red Hat.

In addition, representatives from the four biggest sellers of Linux said they will ship versions of their software as soon as systems built with the Itanium chip ships--currently expected in the second half of the year. These companies joined Trillian in December and now have some of relatively scarce prototype Itanium-based computers.

Linux has much to gain from Itanium and the future members of Intel's IA-64 family that could help carry Linux into higher-end servers. However, Linux is young in this high-end market, and Itanium is even younger, so it's not clear how quickly the new systems will take over from the current Linux stronghold on 32-bit Intel chips.

Even though very few have access to the few hundred Itanium machines, ordinary people will be able to help in the Trillian effort soon. In two weeks at the Intel Developer's Forum, the programming tools to write software for the Itanium chips will be available, meaning that people will be able to see if their software translates to the IA-64 chip even if they don't have an Itanium computer.

Linux, a clone of Unix and competitor to Windows, is different from those better-established operating systems because its original programming instructions are freely available and the software itself is developed by several companies as well as numerous individuals. This strategy is called open-source development.

However, marrying open source development to the proprietary constraints of a still-unreleased chip design was awkward, said Ron Curry of Intel.

"This is somewhat of a new environment for the Linux development to occur," Curry said. In some ways, "Linux is just catching up to the way other operating system developers have code for new processor products. It's a lot easier to go talk to (Sun) or Microsoft four years before the product and put a non-disclosure agreement in place."

Awkward, perhaps, but the strategy has worked, said HP's Mosberger. "I think it is living proof that it is possible to have competing companies work together and produce open source in the way open source was meant to be developed," Mosberger said.

The Itanium chip will enable Intel to sell chips for a category of more powerful, more expensive servers that currently are powered by chips from IBM, Compaq, Sun Microsystems and SGI.

Linux companies soared on the news, lead by VA Linux and Red Hat. At 1 p.m. PST, the close of regular trading, VA Linux was up $29 to $136.88, a 26.88 percent gain. Red Hat was up $15.50 to $108, a 16.76 percent gain.

Itanium will enable faster mathematical calculations than current chips, so many companies expect the Itanium to be popular with scientific and technical users. The European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, one of the Trillian members, has been working on software modules that will make mathematical calculations run well on Itanium, and Hewlett-Packard has been helping to fund the effort, said Mike Balma, leader of HP's Open Source Solutions Operation.

Newer chips from Intel also will boost math performance. The "Foster" chip, due later this year, will be cheaper than Itanium but more powerful than current Pentium chips.

Markus Rex, development director of Linux seller SuSE, is one of the lucky few to have an Itanium machine. He described it in one word: "Loud." The prototype machine has lots of fans to keep it cool, and therefore is sufficiently noisy enough that he quickly moved it from his office to the server room.

Microsoft also is working on a new version of Windows that will work on Itanium. That version is expected to be ready at the launch of Itanium systems.

By the end of June, Intel expects to have thousands of IA-64 prototype machines out, Curry said.