It's also a boost for the Itanium--Intel's first entry into high-end server chips--which has maintained a low profile since its launch about a year ago. Itanium does not yet have the same range of available applications as other high-end platforms, such as Sun Microsystems' Solaris or Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX.
Linux--with a strong developer community and a flexibility that allows the Unix clone to run on numerous chips--has become an asset the chipmakers want on their sides as they prepare future chip designs. Linux has become a tool to secure quick support for a new chip.
Alpha, once considered to be at the leading edge of high-end chip technology, was developed by Digital Equipment, which was later bought by Compaq. Last June, Compaq licensed the chip to Intel and announced it would shift its new server lines to Itanium as a cost-cutting measure.
"Compaq's AlphaServer platform is a popular RISC 64-bit platform in the Linux community, and Red Hat is glad to be continuing its longtime collaboration with Compaq with this upcoming release," said Paul Cormier, vice president of engineering at Red Hat, in a statement.
Red Hat 7.2 for Itanium takes advantage of the chip's ability to address large amounts of memory, which is crucial to fast database processing. The operating system can run efficiently on systems running eight or more Itanium chips as a single system image, according to Red Hat.
The software uses the 2.4.9 Linux kernel and the ext3 file system and includes improved USB support. Software includes an automatic firewall configuration, the Nautilus file manager and the GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) and KDE graphical desktop environments. Ext3 uses journaling for added reliability.
The Alpha port will be available this quarter from Compaq, according to Red Hat. The Itanium version is available now from Red Hat and will be available pre-installed on new hardware in "the coming weeks", the company said.
Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London. News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.