Sun Microsystems on Tuesday quietly released engineering specifications for its UltraSparc chip, making the previously proprietary information available to open-source developers more than a month ahead of schedule.
Sun announced its plans in December to open-source its chip technology after releasing its eight-core T1 processor. That move follows a decision by Sun last year to release its Unix operating system, Solaris, to open-source developers. The specifications are available online at www.opensparc.net.
Part of Sun's goal appears to get Linux ported to the T1. Linux can now run on UltraSparc chips, but there hasn't been much interest among users to do so, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at market research company IDC in Framingham, Mass. Linux on UltraSparc does not show up on IDC surveys "to any great extent."
Users most likely to be interested in running Linux on Sparc have existing Sparc-based hardware and want to adopt Linux but don't want to replace the server hardware, said Kusnetzky.
Releasing UltraSparc engineering specifications as open-source doesn't guarantee user adoption, even if there are compelling reasons to use the chip, he said. Third-party application vendors must also support and certify their applications to run on it, and tools will be needed to do so. "Throwing something over the wall and saying it's open-source is not going to create that ecosystem," said Kusnetzky.
But Dennis Clarke, director of Blastwave.org, a firm in Cobourg, Ontario, that began as a nonprofit group of Solaris developers, believes Sun's open-source strategy will succeed and dismissed any skepticism about third-party support. "If that thinking was true, how did Linux get into the server rooms?"
Clarke earlier this month announced that his group had ported IBM's Power chip to Solaris; he's now hoping that over time, user interest in Solaris on the Power processor will develop.
Karen Anaya, chairwoman and CEO of Sparc International, said that the plan to open-source the T1 is a positive move and that the group is expecting a T1 port to Linux. "We're excited about it," she said.
Anaya said she believes that the specification release will improve Linux's capability to run on UltraSparc and will draw third-party support.