Sun Hedges Its Bets

Further branding its IA-64 Merced as the future processor of choice, Intel Corp has signed on Sun Microsystems Corp. to port its Solaris operating system to the chip, making it the third competitor that the chip giant has won over to Merced.

Further branding its IA-64 Merced as the future processor of choice, Intel Corp has signed on Sun Microsystems Corp. to port its Solaris operating system to the chip, making it the third competitor that the chip giant has won over to Merced.

Sun joins Digital and Hewlett-Packard Co. in the ranks of vendors that design their own chip but are porting their related OSes to Merced, with the help of Intel. Sun's Solaris already runs on Intel's x86 architecture, but it commands a minuscule portion of OS market share in that space. Sun will continue to support Solaris on Sparc chips, including the recently announced UltraSparc III.

The idea that a high-end operating system such as Solaris would offer users a clear upgrade path to a mainstream processor like Merced is reassuring to one user.

"It would put legs on my decision to stay with the OS," said Doug Wilson, an independent systems integrator in San Jose, California. "If you've got something running, you don't want to change."

With Silicon Graphics committed to adding Intel-based systems to its MIPS-based lineup Apple remains as the sole system supplier without a stated strategy to move its customers to the Intel architecture.

Intel and Sun have signed a patent cross-licensing agreement covering microprocessors, systems, and software technologies. Sun representatives said the agreement was signed to avoid any possibility of lawsuits, because the companies have been working together.

Sun officials denied any plans for Sun to manufacture Merced chips, but admitted that the arrangement could allow them to make a version of Sun's Sparc RISC processor that is plug-compatible with Merced.

With this agreement to help Sun port Solaris to Merced, Intel took a swipe at Microsoft by adding another Windows NT competitor to the list of operating system choices. Microsoft has promised that a 64-bit version of Windows NT will ship with the new CPU.

SunSoft President Jan-Pieter Scheerder said that working with Intel will allow Sun to offer Solaris on Merced when the processor ships in 1999.

"Our plan is to be right there with the hardware," Scheerder said.

The agreement will also help Solaris compete with the one OS that is rapidly gaining market share on Solaris in the server space -- Windows NT, Scheerder said.

Working with Intel on the port "validates Solaris as the leader on servers," Scheerder said.

Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, California, is at http://www.intel.com/. Sun Microsystems Inc., in Palo Alto, California, is at http://www.sun.com/.

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