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Intel Makes Linux Move
New Software Tools Will Let Linux Fly on Pentium II and III

By Michael J. Martinez
Feb. 25 — Forget the Wintel paradigm. How about Linux and Intel … Lintel?

Linux penguin
With its old partner Intel joining the Linux movement, Microsoft had better watch out for this penguin.

     Intel Corp. and a small software tool maker called Cygnus Solutions have teamed up to create a way to optimize the Linux operating system, used on desktops and servers, so that it can take advantage of the graphics capabilities and processing power of Intel’s Pentium II processors.
     Intel commonly works with Microsoft and Unix vendors to allow their systems to use the Pentium II’s features. Yet this move, which gives Linux a new level of credibility, is but one of a flurry of recent industry attempts to embrace the dark horse, open source operating system — one that could conceivably go head-to-head with Windows.
     “Linux is becoming a major operating system, from any perspective,” says Mike Pope, director of Intel’s enterprise software division.

Mr. Penguin, Meet Mr. Intel Dancer
Linux was created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds, then a student at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Linux is an “open source” operating system, meaning that anyone who wants it can download it off the Web. Since its conception, hundreds of people from around the world have contributed to the Linux “kernel,” the core of the OS. Yet despite — or perhaps because of — the numerous collaborators, Linux is recognized as one of the most stable operating systems around.
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Alex Daly, CEO of Cygnus Corp., has reasons to smile these days.

    The OS, with its cheery penguin logo and near-fanatical tech-geek following, originally found a home with hard-core computer enthusiasts, but has recently spread into business networks and server systems, and boasts anywhere from 7 million to 10 million users. Numerous companies, such as Caldera, Debian and Red Hat Software, have actually sold copies of the free operating system; the promise of full technical support and bundled applications drives their sales.
     According to a study by the International Data Corp., Linux accounted for 17 percent of the total server systems shipped last year, and shipments increased 213 percent over 1997. That was enough evidence for Intel. It helps that the vast majority of Linux computers are running on Intel’s chipsets already.
     “The Intel architecture is becoming the unifying architecture for Linux,” Pope says. “We believe Linux is a high-growth server operating environment, and we want to be sure that the users can reap the benefits of the Intel architecture.”

Let Linux Fly
Those benefits include being able to use Intel’s MMX graphics technology, as well as the new mathematics capabilities of the upcoming Pentium III processor. With this optimization, and the fact that Linux takes up far less processor power and memory than its Windows counterpart, Linux could very well outpace Windows in speed and reliability.
     “This will have a lot of impact in the areas of multimedia, streaming media and gaming,” says Scott Petry, vice president of Cygnus Solutions. “This optimization has really produced dramatic effects.”
     Here’s how it works: Cygnus makes a software tool called a compiler, which takes the software codes written by Linux designers and translates them into something the computer itself can understand. An optimized compiler tells the operating system which hardware features to use to get the best results.
     The company is announcing its Pentium II compiler tool today, with Pentium III optimization coming by early summer. Petry noted that Corel and Oracle are likely to use the Cygnus tool for their Linux applications.
March of the Penguins
Intel isn’t the first major company to jump on the Linux bandwagon. Last week, IBM announced a partnership with Red Hat to ship systems with Linux pre-installed and with both companies promising technical support. Similar alliances have been made with Hewlett-Packard and Dell over the last few weeks.
     “All of these moves have been very important for Linux,” says Melissa London, spokeswoman for Red Hat, which has anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the Linux sales market, according to various estimates. “I think it shows the maturity of the market, and we’re really excited about it.”
     Expect more companies to hop on that bandwagon. Cyrix Corp., which makes low-cost computer processors, says it also is interested in working on Linux, once it finalizes its 3-D Now! technology, a rival version of MMX.
     “We believe Linux is ready to become a major player in the market,” says Stan Swearenten, senior vice president of Cyrix Corp., which was purchased last year by National Semiconductor. “We use Linux in-house for our own engineering and testing. We like it.”
     As if Microsoft didn’t have enough worries ….

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