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Linux boots on Sun's Niagara chip

Programmer reaches early milestone in adapting the open-source operating system to Sun's 32-thread processor.

Well, that didn't take too long.

Dave Miller, the lead programmer for Linux on Sun Microsystems' Sparc processors, said on his blog Friday he has fired up the open-source operating system on Sun's new UltraSparc T1 "Niagara"-based server. The move is an early milestone in Sun's effort, not just to make Linux functioning on its Sparc-based computers, but also to foster a useful software environment for Linux on Sparc.

In his blog, Miller published a log showing Linux recognized the system as a 32-processor machine with the words, "total of 32 processors activated." The appearance of 32 separate processors for a single chip derives from the fact that the UltraSparc T1 has eight processing engines called cores, each able to handle four separate instruction sequences called threads.

The boot didn't go entirely swimmingly, however: Later in the process, the file system caused a serious problem called a kernel panic.

The Linux-on-Sparc project is just one facet of Sun's bid to restore relevance and financial success by trying to make its technology the foundation of an open-source computing world.

Other parts of the effort include making its own operating system, Solaris, into an open-source project called OpenSolaris. And it's making the UltraSparc T1 an open-source chip, releasing the chip design under the General Public License and many details this week.

This week, Sun President Jonathan Schwartz also touted the company's release of chip details that will be useful for the Linux work, as well as for a parallel effort involving BSD versions of Unix.

Sun's Linux-on-Sparc effort provides new rivals to bring Linux to IBM's Power processors and Intel's Itanium, two server-chip lines that compete against Sun's Sparc family. But many are skeptical that the Linux-on-Sparc project will ever be significant. The top two Linux sellers, Red Hat and Novell, have no plans to resurrect their Sparc versions, for example.

Miller, however, hopes Sun's UltraSparc T1 systems will help reverse that opinion.

One of Miller's goals with the Niagara work is to "reinject some life into sparc64 port," according to a presentation he gave in January at an Australian Linux conference.

Miller also said he hopes to have Linux working at a basic interaction level by mid-February and have a "reasonably stable" version of Linux by midsummer.

"Most of the sparc64 port is up to snuff," he said in the presentation, but added, "As with any significant new platform, some non-trivial changes are needed."