Intel is working with five companies to port the freeware Linuxix and NT. operating system to the Merced chip.
Intel's involvement boosts the credibility of Linux as a corporate alternative to proprietary flavours of Unix and Windows NT. Speculation that the freeware is moving into the mainstream increased recently when Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen promoted Linux as an alternative to Windows.
Am Intel insider told PC Week: "It is in Intel's best interest to have every OS under the sun run on our machines."
Three companies thought to be among those involved are RedHat Software, which publishes a Linux distribution; VA Research, a company developing PCs and servers running Linux; and Cygnus, a provider of cross-platform development tools for 32- and 64-bit microcontrollers.
However, the problem with Linux is that the Gnu Public Licence (GPL) under which it is released states that any code written should be made freely available to the rest of the developer community. It would mean that any companies working on a Merced port would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to Intel so that details of Merced's instruction set would not be revealed until the chip ships. This poses the question of when companies would be allowed to release the source code for a Merced port.
A RedHat spokesman said: "We are in the process of working with Intel to insure that the Linux operating system runs on Merced with the highest possible performance. This includes trying to work in and around the optimisation/NDA issues, which are obvious problems for free software developers."
Larry Augustin, president of VA Research, refused to confirm whether the company was working on a port, but said: "Linux on Merced is a great thing. I definitely see a big market there."
Struan Bartlett, Linux application developer and managing director of NewsNow Publishing, commented: "Intel's move shows that it appreciates the impact Linux has had on high-end corporate computing. An early port of Linux to Merced is a great idea, as long as any source changes are made freely available."
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