Entries Tagged 'Hardware' ↓

Linux netbooks to hit the UK highstreet

I would normally leave the Linux netbook market alone thanks to Jay’s great coverage but since Marks and Sparks is a British institution I’m grabbing this one.

Via Glyn Moody comes the news that a £99 Elonex netbook is expected to go on sale in high street M&S and Next stores next month.

According to The Telegraph: “The Elonex websurfer has just 2GB of memory – not that much more than a good mobile phone – and a thirtieth of what most full-blown laptops contain. However the netbook will be able to tap into your home or work computer remotely, accessing all of its documents and storage. By controlling your home or work PC remotely over the internet, the netbook should be able to compete with larger, more powerful laptops.”

At that price the suggestion is that they must have a Linux variant on board. The Elonex One – targeted at the education market and also available for £99 apparently runs a variant of Linux called Linos which is tailored to the chipset.

It’s time to stick a fork in the OLPC

Dana Blankenhorn yesterday called the OLPC project a failure for its inability to mass market a low-cost Linux laptop. Dana’s definition of failure, in this case, seems to be based on the quantity of XO laptops distributed.

Like the commenter I am not sure that is fair given the interest OLPC has generated in low-cost computing for the masses, but Nicholas Negroponte’s admission that dual-boot machines are coming and that Windows might one day be the sole operating system for the machines does indicate that the project has failed.

“One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist,” Negroponte told the AP, while lamenting that the focus on open source software had caused technical problems, such as limiting support for Flash. “Negroponte said he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children’s hands,” added the AP.

The focus on laptop sales is laudable, but it is debatable whether it justifies abandoning open source software. This is a matter not of fundamentalism, but of principles. According to the OLPC website’s information on the software involved in the project:

“XO is built from free and open-source software. Our commitment to software freedom gives children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms. While we do not expect every child to become a programmer, we do not want any ceiling imposed on those children who choose to modify their machines.”

Expanding on the principles behind this decision, the OLPC states:

“The XO Laptop will bring children technology as a means to freedom and empowerment. The success of the project in the face of overwhelming global diversity will only be possible by embracing openness and by providing the laptop’s users and developers a profound level of freedom.”

And as to the benefits of this approach:

“Epistemologists from John Dewey to Paulo Freire to Seymour Papert agree that you learn through doing. This suggests that if you want more learning, you want more doing. Thus OLPC puts an emphasis on software tools for exploring and expressing, rather than instruction.”

As is explained in “What Do We Mean by Open: Software Freedom and OLPC” on the OLPC wiki, this is not a matter of fundamentalism but one of “the principles upon which we believe the success of our platform will be built.”

As OLPC news points out, there is now a very clear split in the OLPC project between learning and laptop sales.

With Walter Bender leaving the project to “further the development of the XOs’ homegrown software, known as Sugar, and get it to run on Linux computers other than XOs,” according to the AP, there is the interesting prospect of seeing Sugar running on other low-cost laptops including, potentially, Intel’s Classmate PC.

“As we said in the past, we view the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market,” said Negroponte in January as Intel and the OLPC went their separate ways following Intel’s reluctance to abandon Classmate PC in favor of the XO laptop.

As Tom Krazit wrote at the time: “The folks at the OLPC do not have a divine right to sell laptops to poor cities and towns.” What the OLPC did have in its favor was its non-profit status and its principle that the XO was a tool for empowering its users.

If the OLPC does abandon the second of those then, in my opinion, it can be said to have failed just as surely as if it abandoned its non-profit status.

Today’s the day for open source venture funding

“2008 is starting with a bang for open source,” wrote Mark Radcliffe last week, and he’s not wrong. Not only did we see Sun’s $1bn acquisition of MySQL, but we’ve also seen an extraordinary amount of venture capital funding. Today saw no fewer than three investments announced, with Greenplum landing $27m Series C, Zenoss closing a $11m Series B round, and Alfresco announcing a $9m Series C round.

According to 451 CAOS Theory figures $80.5m worth of open source VC funding has been announced in the first 22 days of 2008, compared with $100.4m in the whole of the first quarter of 2007. It’s an extraordinary turnaround after a dismal fourth quarter of 2008, and helps to explain why the funding level for the last quarter was so low. Clearly a few vendors were waiting until the New Year to make their announcements.

For the record, 2008’s open source funding deals break down as follows:

  • Greenplum’s $27m from Meritech Capital Partners, Sun Microsystems, SAP Ventures
  • Zenoss’s $11m from Grotech Capital Group, Intersouth Partners, Boulder Ventures, and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
  • Alfresco’s $9m from SAP Ventures, Accel Partners and Mayfield Fund.
  • Engine Yard’s $3.5m Series A from Benchmark.
  • Openads’ $15.5m Series B from Accel Partners, Index Ventures, First Round Capital, Mangrove Capital Partners and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.
  • SugarCRM’s $14.5m Series D from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, New Enterprise Associates and Walden International.
  • Additionally, First International Computer said it was providing capital for the spun-off OpenMoko.

It’s interesting, incidentally, to see SAP Ventures involved in both the Greenplum and Alfresco deals, while Sun’s investment in the PostgreSQL-based Greenplum in part backs up its commitment to the open source database project following its acquisition of MySQL. Sun was already a Greenplum partner.

The level of funding so far in 2008 also explains why some in the industry are still buoyant about open source investment levels despite the 40% drop in funding noted in 2007. So does the level of activity so far this year suggest we’ll see a significant revival in 2008? Personally I think the level of funding will even itself out over the year, but we’ll see perhaps a slight increase over 2007.

(Then again, it’s just possible, as Matt Asay notes, that open source vendors are getting their funding in now before the downturn hits).

Another potentially good sign for open source investment came from Index Ventures’ announcement that it has closed the400m ($529m) million Index Ventures Growth I L.P fund, “formed to address the market opportunity created by the maturation of Europe’s start-up industry and the movement of traditional late-stage investors into larger deal sizes in both the technology and life science sectors.”

Index has previously been a big supporter of open source, and should be inclined towards further investment seeing as it just got a big fat pay-out from the MySQL deal. Additionally Scale Venture Partners, which is a JasperSoft investor, has declared its intention to do more open source deals.

Meanwhile, 451 CAOS Theory is aware of at least one further open source funding deal for which announcement is imminent. Also, while Sun’s acquisition of MySQL denied the industry one open source IPO this year, we should still expect to see at least one public offering before the year is out.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Sun and IBM partner on Solaris?!

IBM and Sun Microsystems announced today a deal whereby IBM will distribute Solaris on select x86 systems from IBM. IBM customers will now have the option, in some cases, to select Solaris as an operating system, alongside Microsoft Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). From the press release (press release):

IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Sun (Nasdaq: SUNW) today announced that IBM will distribute the Solaris(TM) Operating System (OS) and Solaris Subscriptions for select x86-based IBM System x servers and BladeCenter servers to clients through IBM’s routes to market.

The agreement announced today is an extension of IBM’s existing support for the Solaris OS on select IBM BladeCenter servers, and exemplifies IBM’s commitment to offering clients the widest choice of operating systems available in the industry, as well as Sun’s commitment to offer customers a wider choice of systems for the Solaris platform. IBM and Sun’s support of interoperability via open standards also means that customers will be able to extend their infrastructure by connecting new platforms easily, while preserving their initial investments.

The joint press release focuses on ‘increased customer choice’ as the primary driver for this deal. IBM will continue to offer multiple operating systems options, and continue to invest in its own UNIX operating system, AIX. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz calls it a “tectonic shift in the marketplace – bringing together erstwhile competitors to serve a marketplace IBM and Sun agree is bigger than the both of us” (blog entry). Sun has already partnered with another hardware vendor concerning Solaris x86 – HP. However, the IBM deal is more substantive than the existing deal with HP.

You can’t compete in the technology industry these days without getting cozy with the enemy, it seems. IBM and Sun Microsystems are now working together on…Solaris. Huh? No, this isn’t about ODF or Java or the industry’s love affair with ‘green’ computing we’re talking about here. It’s about Solaris, that operating system that IBM competes with on two fronts (AIX and Linux). The same IBM that has a ‘Solaris-to-Linux customer migration‘ offering with Red Hat, the same IBM that said there was no room for three operating system communities. But, we live in an era with blurred lines between partnerships and competition, and it’s just fine for IBM to OEM Solaris while simultaneously trying its best to push Solaris out of the data center.

For Sun, this is about reducing operating system market share loss, and will not result in much revenue generation. Sun has more at stake in this deal than IBM does. Historically, if a customer selected IBM for hardware, Sun was out of the picture. At least with this OEM deal in place, Sun has some opportunity to court IBM xSeries hardware buyers. Sun has gone from losing all of the IBM deal to just losing most of it. Sun’s priority is selling Sun hardware for Solaris, of course, but this presents a ‘Plan B.’

I’m a fan of both Linux and Solaris, having deployed both operating systems in the enterprise. Before the release of the Linux Kernel v2.6, Solaris was my preferred operating system for Java applications, and this was based on very real testing data on both operating systems. Over the years, I’ve heard of more and more Java developers moving to Linux as the preferred operating system platform as the JVM performance gap has narrowed, with many now questioning the relevancy of Solaris. There is significant mindshare concern here, and Sun has some work to do. This IBM deal is one of many such moves that the company must pursue if it wants Solaris to have more significance than, say…AIX?

Role reversal for Linux and Windows in HPC?

I recently saw an interesting article on the use of Windows in HPC clusters and as I read through it, I realized that the names ‘Windows’ and ‘Linux’ could have easily been swapped throughout the piece if the subject was enterprise servers in 2002. The OS with the hold on the market and most of the cluster management, interconnect and other supporting software: Linux. The challenger creeping into the market in smaller deployments at competitive price: Windows Compute Cluster Server (CCS). I don’t think Redmond is ready to put much dent in the armor Linux has managed to build up around HPC clusters, particularly the biggest and fastest ones

Linux made a quick ascent and has continued domination of the Top500 Supercomputer List for more than a few years, and it’s unlikely that Microsoft will manage much presence in this part of the market. However, the lower end of the high-end IT market is where there is perhaps the greatest growth potential and also where Microsoft is pinning its HPC hopes. Linux vendors in the space, such as Penguin Computing and Linux Networx, as well as large HPC vendors IBM and HP, are also focusing on this market. The Linux cluster and server players would be wise to keep an eye in the rear view mirror for Microsoft, and learn from the lessons of Redmond and its strategic struggle with Linux on servers. The good news is that unlike Microsoft’s Windows, Linux is not the product of a single vendor, and the different options help it to largely avoid lock-in reservations.

While Microsoft is likely to follow up its HPC Windows release with improvement in subsequent versions, Linux clusters will likewise get pushed along by the many vendors that sell and support them. The fact that it is Linux with the most support and scalability advantage in HPC clusters shows how far the open source OS has come. The challenge remains keeping an innovative edge and keeping in touch in order to retain HPC customers, many of whom are unfamiliar with Windows, but are, as open source shows, often willing to consider ‘alternative’ software.

Forget the iPhone, there’s a sexier Linux to look at

For those of us tired of all things iPhone this week, there are some other, refreshing signs of product and market innovation and the all-important sexiness factor. Where? Well, it’s Linux of all places. I’m referring to the latest laptops from OEM goliath Dell that deliver Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux — which itself represents an effort to beautify and embellish the OS — in cool-looking, colored Inspiron notebooks. There’s even an Espresso Brown one that would go nicely with Ubuntu’s traditional desktop. Want a laptop to match your Flamingo Pink outfit or Sunshine Yellow car? I like the Spring Green and Apine White, too. Best part is, when you look at the options for these slick data roadsters, the Ubuntu Linux is an easy-to-find, single-click alternative alongside Windows. It’s a real option listed among processors, capacity and other features. This may not sound like much, and there is still a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way. Now it seems even other vendors are among the looky-loos and rubberneckers stopping to say, wow, that’s nice looking. When fans of Linux and open source find out it comes with Linux pre-installed, it looks even hotter. Looking good, Linux. Feeling good, Dell.

Ubuntu-Dell is great news. Its success tests Canonical’s support model.

Canonical has announced that Dell will sell personal computers pre-installed with Feisty Fawn, Ubuntu 7.04. Financial details, such as what license fee if any is being paid by Dell to Canonical, which sponsors Ubuntu, were not disclosed. Dell will offer optional paid support from Canonical, maintaining Canonical’s support revenue model; some Dell customers are willing to pay for support. Three desktops and a laptop model will be introduced, possibly followed by other models.

We believe that the market is there and ready for the offering. This success of this deal, then, will hinge on two key aspects. First is Canonical’s ability to scale its end-user tech support. Second is how Canonical will react when customers, for the first time since the launch of Ubuntu, are pissed off at it.

Linux on the Desktop
Desktop Linux has struggled primarily because of installation challenges and a perception of Linux as anything but mainstream, either second-rate cheap stuff used as a Windows substitute for pikers (I’m afraid that Linspire at WalMart and Elektra perpetuates this) or first rate rocket science that’s just for geeks (Gentoo, says Gentoo, has made installation easier).

Now, Canonical and Ubuntu are not just about making money. The amount of pure goodwill in the project, with sponsorships of educational and localized versions designed to bring the power of Linux and free and open source software to the developing world, is laudable.

Ironically, this beneficent approach has resulted in a slicker, more professional and richer user experience than any other distro, even those which charge for every copy: The Ubuntu user experience today stands proudly and rightfully next to those of commercial operating systems. The Dell OEM is not about a cheap substitute for Windows, it’s about pre-loaded Linux on Dell hardware, something we believe has a small immediate market and, we believe, a much larger one long term. Canonical says it already has deals with OEM partners in Asia that sell 200,000 pre-installed Ubuntu machines each year.

The growth of Mac in the past three years has come from sexy hardware, sexy software and a wicked cool OS. But it comes with a price, which we aver slows adoption by Windows users who might be unhappy but don’t want to invest in all new hardware. Even users buying Ubuntu pre-installed on Dell can still, if they think the whole Ubuntu thing is rubbish, go pick up a copy of Windows, install it and be done with it – far less risk. Additionally, a barrier to Linux desktop adoption has been getting the thing installed and all the hardware to work. People don’t want to futz around with drivers and wrappers, they want to shred tracks, play tunes and videos and surf the web. Ubuntu, more than any other free distro to date, makes this possible. Pre-installed, we’d say, this stuff will stack up against the best of Linspire from a user experience perspective any day of the week (in fact, Ubuntu users can subscribe to CNR if they install the client – a one-command operation – and pay the fees).

Support is everything
Neither side will disclose whether Dell pays any money for the Ubuntu OS. Canonical points to its long-stated revenue model of a commercial support offering, and it’s true: Dell and Microsoft customers have demonstrated a willingness to pay for commercial support. That in and of itself shows the Dell deal has huge upside revenue potential for Canonical.

The Dell deal, though, lives and dies by support. Canonical must scale its support offering or face user wrath (Dell is not renowned for great support; several sites are dedicated to bitching about it and a recent peasant revolt resulted in a total overhaul that’s, uh, ongoing). Here’s Mark Shuttleworth on the subject:

This is certainly the question that has the full attention of Canonical and Dell. We are of course already selling and servicing desktop support, but we are aware of the challenge of rapidly scaling an operation that depends on highly skilled and trained staff. The team in Montreal is closely involved in the planning, so we’re quietly confident that nobody will be caught unawares. That said, we do not know what to expect, as nobody else has tried this approach before. Will be happy to give you more feedback in a quarter.

So can Canonical ramp up its commercial support infrastructure to deal with an avalanche of utter newbies? These are newbies, by the way, of a totally new ilk. This third generation of Newbie will have had to do no research, no homework and taken no time to learn about the OS. It is the generation which simply bought it. And you know what? They want their CDs to play, their web experience to be the same as it is on their work computers, their PowerPoint animations to work, their bullet points to look as sexy. Apt-get what? Did you say sudo?

When I first installed Linux in 1997, I was just such a newbie, and it was ghastly nightmare. I needed long-lost manuals to determine hardware settings. It took me like three days to get the thing up to a command line, let alone X.

In the next generation, wizard- and script-based installers took away much of the pain away and more users showed up; newbies found it easier to experiment because setup no longer necessitated psychotherapy.

Ubuntu made this process more democratic still. Today’s announcement that Dell would ship four computers with pre-installed Ubuntu Linux opens the floodgates. Now what?

Consider this from a Feisty bug report this week:

I’d never had this problem with Windows XP Pro or XP Media Center Edition. I also don’t remember this problem with Ubuntu Edgy. The network was just re-detected immediately. Feisty risks being perceived as not environmentally-friendly if it cannot handle Hibernate/Suspend properly…Thanks in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

This is, of course, a user relatively new to open source thinking that he’s writing a note to customer service as opposed to filing post number 21 on Bug 45696 – a bug, we add, with a non-Ubuntu element (NetworkManager) – addressing a list of those in the community who are pitching in to help. The poster is a well-intentioned person, who also gave some useful technical information about his hardware.

Imagine, now, the legions of newbies attracted by the promise of reliable, easy to use software calling up to say that they can’t get something to work. Something, you understand, that they’ve paid for.

This kind of support will comprise a fair bit of really basic stuff, stuff the Linux community has typically not been very good at.

Linspire sells cheap-a-rooni PCs at places like WalMart and Elektra in Mexico. That WalMart became interested tells us that people can move honkin’ boatloads of Linux boxes so long as they’re truly good to go. The Ubuntu-Dell announcement makes this mainstream. For Canonical, which has seen utterly phenomenal takeup, it is reach beyond any it has enjoyed to date.

I’m not saying that this is a bad thing – it is in fact a great thing. My comments are not similar to those concerned about the impact of AOLers turned loose on the public Internet in the mid-1990s, but rather about the sustainability and scalability of the Canonical support model. So far, the Ubuntu community led by Canonical has been truly wonderful about getting very basic information out to those seeking it. But that is just it: those users to date have sought it. They were there because they’d done some research and managed to get the flippin’ thing installed.

Now Canonical is entering the, “My printer doesn’t work. What kind? A white one” business, it will have to live up to a fairly high standard.

A legacy laptop edge for Linux?

IDC reports that shipments of laptops are ready to overtake shipments of desktops, a long-running trend in the PC industry. We’ve also been hearing more and more about ‘green computing’ and how energy efficiency and environmental impact are becoming priorities for consumers concerned about their world and enterprises concerned about their reputation.

This got me thinking about the opportunity for Linux, not in new laptops that will mostly be preloaded with Windows Vista, but the opportunity for Linux in old laptops. Most of us have these machines. For my family, it’s our second laptop, a Dell Inspiron. It has a WiFi card sticking out, but works pretty well with XP, for now. However, when my HP dv1000 had broken Windows, I jumped onto the Ubuntu Linux bandwagon and have been impressed, happy, challenged and gratified by my change. I’m contemplating Ubuntu or another Linux on our old Dell laptop that has become my daughter’s computer. If and when, with my bet on the latter, my wife’s Windows laptop seizes, I’ll be ready to help her jump over to the Linux she likes best.

As for desktop computers, I have an old, 400Mhz AMD desktop (date of origin unknown) that runs pretty well with Debian Linux (thanks FreeGeek), and I’ve used Xandros to transform another old, Wintel PII machine (purchased in the year 2000) that had Windows 98 on it into a home network server with connected hard drive. If these uses of Linux for desktops, which also avert PC waste and its ecological impact, are any indication, Linux has the potential to be deployed on generations of laptop computers.

Enterprises might also consider alternative uses of old Windows notebooks, which could be loaded with Linux to work longer for mobile workers, with Mac shops or even in server environments. That could have a much greater impact, or non-impact, on the environment, at the same time propping up Linux and its users in the market.

Latest Dell Linux is progress from the wild penguin chase of past

Over the last five years or so, there have been a number of rumors, stories and announcements on pre-loaded desktop Linux from big PC makers that typically get Linux fans excited, then disappointed. Sometimes, it would amount to sending out PCs with a basic OS like FreeDOS or no operating system at all. If the company – and we’re talking mostly about Dell and HP since they’re the biggest ones to dip their toes in the refreshing lake of desktop Linux – did actually pre-load a Linux distribution, it was usually for a market outside of North America.

If the company actually offered Linux PCs in the U.S., the sales price never seemed to reflect the lower software cost of the open source OS, and desktops or notebooks were not supported or advertised on anywhere near the scale of Windows PCs.

I was skeptical again recently to hear Dell would be responding to a flood of requests for Linux on its new Idea Storm feedback site.

However, I am beginning to think that after all of these years of rumors, announcements, hype and hidden products, we have actually covered some significant ground toward a mass-market for desktop Linux among consumers and small businesses.

The reason for my change to optimism is not that Dell is certifying Novell Suse Linux for its OptiPlex desktop, Latitutde notebook and Precision workstations. It’s not that the company also indicated a willingness to work with other Linux vendors and with its customers and user community to help ‘define the market.’ It’s not even that Dell is including Latitude notebooks in its n-Series line of no-OS, Linux-ready PCs.

The real reason I think this may be progress for desktop Linux is that Dell is talking about it out in the open. Rather than having to track down obscure product marketing managers or foreign company divisions, or having to rely on rumors whirling about, we’re now able to visit the links listed in this blog and find out fairly accurately where and how Linux is fitting into the Dell desktop market machine. That’s a long way from the days when those interested in Linux desktops and notebooks were sent on what can only be described as a wild penguin chase.

Introducing the CAOS Research Service

I am pleased the announce today the we have officially launched the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service and the first CAOS Report – “Stack and Deliver,” covering the open source stack provider space. For more details on these announcements, I invite you to take a look at the two press releases that were sent out today:

The 451 Group Introduces the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service

The 451 Group Cuts Through the ‘Single Throat to Choke’ Hype from Open Source Stack Providers in New Report

Many thanks go out to Dennis Callaghan, Chris Noble, and Nick Patience, for working with me on the first CAOS Report, as well as all of you who took part in the end user survey, vendor briefings, and discussions both on and off the record. Also, many thanks go out to Rachel Chalmers for so diligently covering the open source space for The 451 Group for years and years and also authoring our special report, Cashing in on open source software, which was published last December.

I will be blogging about the various components of the CAOS Research Service in the days ahead.

More on Sun and Ubuntu

Sun Microsystems and Canonical issued a joint press release yesterday regarding Ubuntu support for the UltraSPARC T1 processor and the related Sun server line. We touched upon this topic in part one of our interview with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, late last week.

While this news was expected, based on Mark Shuttleworth’s appearance during Jonathan Schwartz’s keynote address at JavaOne earlier this month, the press release is a more official stamp of approval from Sun to Ubuntu (and vice versa).

I think this news is significant for two reasons:

1) Ubuntu is moving from the desktop to the server space – providing a community counterpoint to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). We’ve had community Linux distributions aimed at the server market since the early days of Linux, but nothing like Ubuntu, which is less than two years old and is already the number one Linux distribution (based on tracking data from DistroWatch). There’s something special about Ubuntu, and I’m still trying to understand exactly what it is.

2) Sun is serious about opportunities to sell their hardware for use with operating systems other than Solaris (or OpenSolaris derivatives). We are seeing a true decoupling of the software and hardware aspects of Sun’s business. Sun played around with Linux support in the past, but this is different.

If Canonical puts together a strong services play for Ubuntu (as is planned), you could see Ubuntu as a major player in the Linux server market over time – whether that’s coupled with hardware from Sun, or other providers. I expect to see more Ubuntu hardware partnerships from Canonical this year.

Is OpenSparc all about Linux?

I admit to being impressed by the boldness of Sun’s ‘Niagara’ UltraSparc T1 processor strategy when the chip was launched at the end of last year – eight cores, 32 threads and its emphasis on lower power consumption seemed to put it ahead of the pack. But I was surprised and a bit uncertain about Sun’s decision to turn the design specs of the chip over to the open source community as OpenSparc. What would they want with it, and what would they do with it?

Things are only a little bit clearer now that Sun has followed up on its promise, with the release of the Verilog designs for Niagara along with the programming interfaces to its HyperVisor layer microcode, the latter particularly important for those porting new operating systems to the chip. Competitor Hewlett-Packard, stung no doubt by Scott McNealy’s famous two garbage trucks quip, is putting it about that the entire thing is really about getting Linux onto Sparc – a fruitless task it points out, since 99.5% of current Linux shipments run on x86 architectures.

A quick look at the first companies to publicly show an interest in OpenSparc suggests that the embedded sector is where much of the action will be. Start-up Simply RISC, for instance, plans a cut-down version of Niagara for PDAs, desktop boxes, digital cameras and possibly routers. TTM Inc (it stands for Time To Market) provides ASIC design services. And research efforts such as RAMP and MASC are looking to synthesize the Niagara architecture on top of new-generation of field programmable gate array chips.

This is all very interesting, but doesn’t at first indicate that OpenSparc will represent a massive additional business beyond Sun’s own sales of the chip within its own servers. True, Sun created a good ecosystem based on embedded Sparc during the 1990s but that’s faded somewhat in recent years. Current Linux distributions don’t perform well in multithreaded environments and unless Red Hat and Novell begin showing more enthusiasm about Niagara than they currently seem to be, then Solaris is likely to remain the primary enterprise operating system for the new chip, tending to limit sales to Sun’s current user base.