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Sparc-on-Intel translator due in weeks

Start-up Transitive plans to release software to run Sparc-on-Solaris software on Linux-on-Xeon.

SAN FRANCISCO--Transitive, a start-up specializing in software that translates software for one chip so it can run on another, plans to release software this quarter so programs for Sun Microsystems' Sparc chips can be used on Intel Xeon chips.

Transitive demonstrated the software this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here. Intel, which for years has vied to lure UltraSparc customers to its own chips, announced a partnership in March to help Transitive with the work.

The Los Gatos, Calif.-based start-up plans to begin selling the Xeon version of the Sparc translation software in the third quarter, said product manager Frank Weigel. The company also demonstrated a version of the software to run Sparc on Intel Itanium chips, a product that will go on sale in the fourth quarter, Weigel said. Both use Linux instead of Sun's Solaris operating system.

The products mark a new phase in Transitive's history: software that one company can use to compete against another. Previous versions of the company's QuickTransit software have been used to help companies through internal chip transitions: Apple Computer's switch from PowerPC to Intel x86 chips; Silicon Graphics' switch from its MIPS chips to Itanium; and, announced this week, IBM's attempt to bring x86 Linux software to its own Power processors.

Transitive's software works by translating instructions for one chip into the equivalent instructions another chip can understand. Frequently used instructions are cached so they needn't be translated again each time they're used.

Weigel asserted that QuickTransit performs well. Sparc-Solaris software generally runs faster on Xeon-Linux using Transitive's software than on machines with Sun's 1.5GHz UltraSparc IV+ chips.

The company's LinuxWorld demonstrations featured Transitive running Sparc-Solaris versions of Sybase and Oracle database software. In some cases, the software was running within a virtual machine, a compartment with its own operating system created with EMC's VMware software.

Weigel said he didn't expect customers would use Transitive's software for their performance-sensitive central applications but would be more likely to do so when it comes to secondary code. And Transitive includes software that lets Linux run the custom scripts that people wrote to automate Solaris tasks, Weigel added.