IBM joins advanced Linux effort

Big Blue signs onto the "Trillian" initiative to port Linux to Intel's first 64-bit chip, Merced, joining Intel, VA Linux Systems, SGI, Hewlett-Packard, and Cygnus Solutions.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN JOSE, California--IBM has joined the effort to make sure that Linux will be ready to run Intel's next-generation microprocessor.

The computing giant has signed onto the Trillian initiative to "port" Linux to Intel's first 64-bit chip, code-named Merced, joining Intel, VA Linux Systems, SGI, Hewlett-Packard, and Cygnus Solutions, according to sources. The move indicates IBM's increasing seriousness toward the upstart operating system.

The first versions of Linux for IA-64 will be released to the open source community in the first quarter of 2000, said Intel's Sean Maloney, senior vice president for sales and marketing, in a keynote address here today at the LinuxWorld conference. Intel will help the effort by making several Merced prototype servers available over the Internet to the open source community at large, instead of just the Trillian partners.

The four major commercial Linux sellers--Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE, and Turbolinux--and VA each will get a prototype Merced machine, Maloney said. "We'll make the systems available...so people can actually do development across the Net," he said.

"It's a different way of doing it," he said of the open source effort in an interview after the address.

Though he didn't mention Windows NT once during the keynote--many Linux developers see Microsoft as their chief adversary--Maloney did say in the interview that "NT is king of the enterprise."

The first Merced prototypes are due "in a few weeks' time," said Intel chairman Andy Grove, taking the stage in a surprise appearance at the show today. Grove and Maloney demonstrated a basic process--serving up a Web page--using a software simulation an IA-64 computer.

Intel will be holding its developer's forum starting August 31 in Palm Springs, California. A number of operating system companies will outline their Merced road maps, according to Intel executives.

Intel's next-generation processors are eventually expected to play a large role in servers that make up the backbone of the Internet, according to a number of observers. However, Merced has been delayed until the second half of the year 2000, and the first samples of the chip will likely only come out by the end of this month.

Big Blue's support also reinforces an Intel-led push to bring leading software to the IA-64 architecture. Intel sees IA-64 as a way to lure more software companies and server manufacturers to adopt its world view, and the company been aggressive in encouraging efforts to bring the operating systems of today to Intel's chips of tomorrow, previously investing in Red Hat and VA as part of the push.

At the first LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in March, Intel and VA announced Trillian, the effort to make Linux compatible with IA-64. Today, at the second incarnation of the conference, the Trillian partners demonstrated Linux on an Intel software simulator of the new IA-64 chip, as reported earlier.

Trillian also is working with leading sellers of Linux to make sure their products are ready in time for the first IA-64 chip, Merced, sources said. And to help other software writers prepare for the chip's arrival, Trillian results should be available to the open source community in February or so.

Linux, with its open-source character, is different from most operating systems, causing the development effort some unusual difficulties. For instance, instead of being restricted to a single company, Linux developers sometimes work at several--and frequently collaborate with fellow developers at competing companies. Not only that, but developing software for prototype chips requires the signing of non-disclosure agreements, a fact that doesn't always mesh well with the sharing nature of open-source programming.

The Trillian project hasn't been smooth sailing, VA chief executive Larry Augustin acknowledged in a recent interview. He said those wrinkles have been smoothed, however, and the project now is ahead of schedule.

One of the reasons for the quickened pace is the arrival of software from HP, which has been working on Linux for IA-64 for a year and a half, a developer familiar with the project said.

IBM's backing of Linux on IA-64 is interesting in light of Big Blue's support of Monterey, a plan to merge its own AIX flavor of Unix with Santa Cruz Operation's UnixWare, with a dash of Sequent's version of Unix thrown in for good measure. The Monterey leaders intend that version of Unix to be the one that ships in high volume for IA-64 systems.

IBM's John Prial said Big Blue is comfortable with many operating systems under its roof, and that AIX today and Monterey tomorrow will sell in a different area than Linux. "We're very comfortable having many operating systems," he said.

"Monterey will be popular in high business-value transactional systems and heavy-duty business intelligence," Prial said. Linux, on the other hand, currently is popular in Web servers, file and print servers, and other smaller-scale computers, though that could change two or three years down the line.

IBM also has been helping out LinuxPPC and Yellow Dog, versions of Linux that run on its own PowerPC chips, the home hardware of AIX.