16, 2000 [Sm@rt Reseller & ZDNet News]
Linux: Itanium's Great 64-Bit Hope?
Microsoft now is expecting Whistler Beta 2 to be its first IA-64 offering.
a strange set of converging circumstances, Linux could end up as the preeminent
operating system for Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip, due in the second half
of this year.
is holding to the party line that it will have a 64-bit Windows release
ready to ship once Intel officially releases Itanium. But according to
an internal Microsoft memo, dated Jan. 1, 2000, viewed by Sm@rt Reseller,
the software company expects to release Beta 2 of Whistler, its next version
of Windows following Windows 2000, as its first Itanium offering. The
final shipping version of Whistler isn't slated to arrive until March
2001, according to the memo.
needs to be available at Itanium launch. Our goal is to use Beta 2 as
the product that fulfills this requirement," said the author of the Microsoft
memo, distributed internally to its Windows development team.
memo, along with this week's spat between Intel and Sun Microsystems Inc.
over Solaris for Itanium, leaves Linux looking like it may become the
most viable operating system for Itanium, when the chip ships in the third
quarter of this year.
way the Itanium OS story is unfolding is more a result of market forces
than any preordained plan on Intel's part.
officials at its semi-annual Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs this
week said they were unaware of any change in Microsoft's plans to deliver
simultaneously with Itanium a final, shipping 64-bit version of Windows.
"has committed publicly to have 64-bit Windows at [the Itanium] launch,"
said a skeptical Michael Pope, director of the enterprise program inside
Intel's Enterprise Server Group. When Itanium ships, "We will have a production
level version of Windows 2000 64-bit," he said. "At a minimum, it will
be Windows 2000 as it is today. The question is, how many features [from
Whistler] will they add."
delivered, more than a year ago, a software developers kit with tools
and documentation to help developers make their applications 64-bit-compilable.
However, not even an alpha version of 64-bit Windows exists, Microsoft
week has not been a red letter one for Itanium OS support. The week began
with a public spat between Intel and Sun Microsystems in which Intel is
claiming Sun is dragging its feet in developing a version of Solaris optimized
for the IA-64 processor.
we have seen over this year, is a pattern of a lot more talk than action
[from Sun]. That's not what we signed up for," said Paul Otellini, executive
vice president and general manager of Intel's Intel Architecture Business
To The Rescue?
Sun and Microsoft aren't the only major OS working feverishly to deliver
64-bit offerings simultaneously with Intel's Itanium. But of all of these
offerings, only 64-bit Linux is at the beta testing stage at this point.
The others are in alpha or pre-alpha.
early February, the Trillian Project--a group consisting of Caldera, CERN,
Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Red Hat, SGI, SuSE, TurboLinux and VA Linux--released
its first beta of a version of Linux optimized for Itanium. This week
at the Intel Developers Forum, IBM announced that the Project Monterey
team (IBM, the Santa Cruz Operation and Intel) will have an alpha version
of Monterey ready to deliver to developers on Feb. 29.
operating systems typically go through at least a year of rigorous beta
testing before they are released commercially. Given this timetable, it's
looking increasingly doubtful that the big OS vendors, like Microsoft,
IBM and Sun will have enough time to test, finalize and productize their
OSes so they can ship simultaneously with Itanium.
declined to comment on the particulars of its 64-bit OS delivery plans
or on the contents of the Jan. 1 memo.
In theory, this will give Linux a modest shot in the arm - probably not
enough to push it past Windows's market share, but enough to gain some
more market share points. What will be interesting to see is how Intel
and Microsoft respond to the likelihood of Win64 (64-bit Windows) being
late to the gate. When it was only the Alpha processor (and Digital/Compaq)
that would be hurt by Microsoft taking its time, Redmond could afford
to take its time without worrying about market share issues. With Itanium
(formerly Merced), the delay becomes more serious. We can envision any
number of scenarios (and their likelihood):
- MS institutes a crash program to get Win64 ready in time for Itanium
release Microsoft will probably increase its efforts to get the product
out on time. However, we don't foresee them pulling out all the stops,
just to avoid missing the Itanium release. [30% probability]
- Intel delays Itanium by a couple of months, to allow MS to catch up
a little Although this makes interesting fodder for "Wintel conspiracy"
freaks, there is minimal benefit to Intel in doing this. (In the short
term; in the long-term, Redmond might consider exacting a penalty for
Intel's lack of "assistance".) In addition, Intel has shown an increasing
willingness to work closely with Linux factions. Of course, we are tactfully
ignoring the possibility that Intel will miss its delivery date anyway.
[Less than 10% probability]
- Microsoft does the "crash program" thing, but accepts a three-month
lag between Itanium and Win64 Although this is unappealing to Redmond,
we think it is the most likely scenario. Companies committed to Itanium
and Windows will put up with the wait. The risk lies in companies wavering
between the two OSes, but committed to Intel processing. We think the
amount of attrition resulting from any delay will be relatively small
when compared to other reasons for attrition. In addition, Microsoft
could always try to use the "It's more important that we have it for
McKinley (due for release in 2001, expected to be significantly more
powerful than Itanium) than for Itanium" excuse. [60% probability]
Users won't be able to try Linux-on-Itanium for another six months or
so. Those wishing to try it may want to install Linux on their current
Intel-based hardware, to ensure that they feel comfortable with it beforehand.
Potential users may also want to speak with someone who already uses Linux-on-Alpha,
to see if there are significant/sufficient performance gains. (Bear in
mind that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison.)
theoretical performance gains to be had from the move to 64-bit hardware
(including Alpha) are large, but only if the application is also 64-bit.
Digital/Compaq learned the hard way that 32-bit apps running on 64-bit
hardware do not necessarily run faster. Users should exercise appropriate
caution regarding promises made in anticipation of Itanium, relative to
other side issue: Itanium (unlike AMD's Sledgehammer 64-bit processor)
is not strictly compatible with the current x86 architecture. This will
further muddy the 64-bit waters. Although Itanium will ship before Sledgehammer,
this is no longer a guarantee of market share.