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Intel, Sun: So Happy Together, When It Comes To Software

The joint development efforts have been broader and deeper than anticipated, company executives reveal.

Intel and Sun Microsystems used to trade barbs with each other over the inadequacies of their respective hardware designs.

Now they're cooperating closely on a number of fronts to improve the way Sun's software runs on Intel's x86 instruction set hardware, said Douglas Fisher, Intel's VP for software and general manager of its Systems Software Division. The joint development efforts "have been broader and deeper than we ever anticipated," said Fisher.

Sun wants its OpenSolaris, the open source version of its Solaris operating system, to run as fast as possible on Intel servers. Ditto for Java, Fisher said. While Solaris traditionally ran on Sun's UltraSparc hardware, OpenSolaris for x86 has been widely downloaded to run on x86 computers from both Intel and AMD. Two-thirds of OpenSolaris downloads have been for x86 instruction set machines, Sun officials say.

Fisher showed a rotating image of the world powered by the Java Virtual Machine of a year ago, then an updated Java Virtual Machine rotating the globe at a rate that was 68% faster. The difference sprang out of Intel/Sun engineering team's collaboration, he said. The hardware running the demonstration was the same in each case.

Sun likewise wants its upcoming xVM Server hypervisor and existing xVM VirtualBox for virtual desktops to perform as fast as possible, making use of the virtualization hooks that Intel now builds into its processors.

Sun has adopted the open source Xen hypervisor as the basis for its xVM product set and is a contributor to the project. But as it turns out, Intel "is a leading contributor to Xen, second only to XenSource," the company behind the open source hypervisor, Fisher said. When Xen runs efficiently on Intel's Xeon processors, both Intel and Sun interests are served since Sun builds and sells Xeon-based servers.

Intel has established an open source (mobile Linux) project, which seeks to produce tools and software for mobile Internet devices, TV set-top boxes, personal navigation devices, personal media players, and ultralight laptops. Intel is producing the tiny Atom chip -- Fisher held up a 4-inch vial that he said contained 1,000 Atom chips -- for such devices, many of which are expected to run the Micro Edition of Java.

Mobil Internet devices are different than the PCs and laptops that came before them. They must consume less power, use a minimum amount of memory, and display results on a small screen, while at the same time exploiting the power of Internet servers and databases, Fisher said. Sun's experience in generating a version of Java for mobile devices will be an asset to Moblin, he predicted.

"Nothing is better than everyone competing on Intel hardware," he concluded.

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