Leading Linux seller Red Hat won a place in the coalition, dubbed Trillian, when it acquired software development toolmaker Cygnus Solutions in November. Soon it will be joined by Caldera Systems, TurboLinux and SuSE, the three other largest sellers of the Unix-like operating system, sources familiar with the plan said.
The Trillian project is a big factor in the future success of Linux, as companies try to push the operating system to the loftier position occupied by the closely related Unix operating system. Though Linux runs on several 64-bit chips, such as the UltraSparc from Sun Microsystems, the Alpha from Compaq and the PA-RISC from Hewlett-Packard, the Linux stronghold today is on 32-bit chips from Intel.
The Linux operating system is particularly popular in servers and many see it as competing both with Windows and Unix. It was developed by Linus Torvalds and countless other programmers and has made its way into the product lines of the world's biggest computing companies.
The Itanium is Intel's first 64-bit processor in its IA-64 family and the spearhead of its effort to take on the high-end chips from Sun Microsystems and others. Moving to a 64-bit architecture means the computer can deal with much larger amounts of memory and much larger databases, two important features for big businesses.
Trillian members currently are chiefly hardware companies: Intel, VA Linux Systems, SGI, HP and IBM. The other two members are the European Laboratory for Particle Physics and Cygnus, which writes the software that translates programs written by people into instructions a computer can understand.
Adding the software companies means the effort will be broadened to include the companies who actually will sell products based on Trillian.
The development of Trillian currently is happening behind closed doors, a contrast to the usual methods of open-source programming. But the results of the effort will be shared midway through the first quarter of 2000--likely February--when Intel will release the participating companies from their nondisclosure agreements, said Ron Curry, leader of IA-64 marketing at Intel.
Intel wants to see as many operating systems as possible succeed on its IA-64 chip. The company has invested in Red Hat, TurboLinux and SuSE.
Caldera Systems confirmed its participation in the Trillian project.
"We've already allocated resources. We're excited to be on this project," said Caldera Systems' Benoy Tamang. "It's necessary in order for us to maintain our own momentum and keep up with the new archtitecture. We believe strongly that the Merced [the code name for Itanium] version of Linux will be just critical."
Intel versions of Caldera Systems software account for more than 90 percent of revenues, Tamang said. Intel declined to comment on the new partners.
SuSE also confirmed its participation in Trillian. "All the primary Linux distributors have agreements in place with Intel to get the early release of the chips so we can have distributions ready in time for the primary launch," said Marc Torres, president of the U.S. branch of SuSE, which is based in Germany.
Linux, which already runs on many different chips, is relatively easy to transfer from one type to another because the chip-specific sections are isolated in a separate section and the bulk of the software doesn't have to be changed, Torres said.
TurboLinux chief executive Cliff Miller declined to comment on the specifics of the Trillian project and Red Hat representatives were not immediately available for comment.
"We work very closely with Intel on several things, but we're unfortunately not able to talk about the Trillian project," Miller said in an interview.
However, he said Trillian and the IA-64 chips will increase the Linux muscle. "Right now if you want 64-bit power, you go to other hardware platforms, which tend not to be commodity hardware," he said.
Though versions of Unix from HP, Sun and IBM will be available on IA-64, Miller predicted that Linux would lead the way.
"With a company like Intel behind getting these commodity boxes with 64-bit processing power, you're going to see some pretty fierce competition in the server market. I think you'll see Linux really leading that drive on the Intel platform for these servers," Miller said.
Intel has begun shipping hundreds of prototype Itanium computers and chips to hardware companies, the company said.