Sun Microsystems Inc says its cross-patent licensing deal with Intel Corp and its plan to optimize Solaris x86 for the 64-bit Merced chip (see separate story) will not alter its Sparc RISC strategy one iota. However, observers wonder whether this isn’t the first indication that the company is making provision for a time when it might require an Intel product line again. After all no details of the patent cross-licensing have been made public – except that it involves system software and chips – which reminds us of the deal that saw Hewlett-Packard Co cash in its PA-RISC for a piece of Intel action. Sun says that from what it can tell Merced is outpacing the ability of Windows NT to keep up with it and that it is therefore simply exploiting an opportunity at the enterprise level. Thus as far as it is concerned the relationship is definitely not aimed at the workstation space, even though many Solaris x86 applications are technical and scientific programs. Furthermore Sun says the agreement is aimed specifically at building whatever is required to get the Merced port done – clearly there was little it learned about the technology through the Solaris x86 OEM deal with Intel server builder NCR Corp. Sun wouldn’t even go so far as to say whether a Merced emulator for Solaris is being created so that system software and applications can be prepared before the chip is delivered. Insiders say the only Merced emulators currently in existence are for Windows NT and Santa Cruz Operation Inc’s UnixWare. Why anyone would want to buy Solaris for Sparc when they can buy it on Intel is question which Sun finds difficult to answer, but it’s clear that in the near-term this deal is targeted at winning new OEM and ISV business for Solaris x86 plus the follow-through opportunities it can provide. Sun makes its money selling Sparc Solaris hardware; that’s not about to change anytime soon. When asked what kinds of Intel-oriented technologies it will support in the Merced release, the answer again is very cagey. Sun says it will add support for technologies such as the VIA Virtual Interface Architecture clustering specification and hot-plug PCI, but only when it sees any demand from OEMs, including NCR Corp and the others it still claims to have up its sleeve but wouldn’t say whether they have actually signed. The same is true for OEM partner technologies Sun has previously said it’ll support on Solaris x86; NCR’s LifeKeeper failover software will be layered on top, Sun says. Meantime, Sun was rather disingenuously informing questioners on a conference call about the deal that there is only one version of Solaris and that 12,000 applications run on it. True, there maybe one source tree, but the operating system is delivered in two varieties: one to run on the big-endian Sparc instruction set, the other for Intel’s little-endian architecture. Sun told us back in August there are 2,500 applications available for Solaris x86 versus 12,000 for the Sparc implementation. It hopes this deal will bring more of them over. While Sun claims its Intel deal signifies a shift in the balance of power in the industry, most commentators were applauding Sun’s PR 101 as the event was clearly driven by its marketing people.
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