In hopping chips, will IBM hop Solaris and Windows too?

How Novell's and Red Hat's versions of Linux came to run on IBM's big iron has always been a mystery to me. About all I knew was that there was some collaboration between IBM and the two companies.

How Novell's and Red Hat's versions of Linux came to run on IBM's big iron has always been a mystery to me. About all I knew was that there was some collaboration between IBM and the two companies. This dates back to the days when SuSE was on its own (not a part of Novell), a period of time when I wrote a story that touched on how the effort involved IBM's developers and the resulting code was open-sourced.

Podcast But after doing a podcast interview with IBM's worldwide Linux chief Scott Handy as a part of ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts (download the MP3, or learn how to have them automatically downloaded while you're sleeping), it's clear that, whether intended or not, those efforts three years ago were the seedlings for something much bigger. That something is IBM's Chiphopper.

Chiphopper -- a package of free technologies and services that IBM released at LinuxWorld -- is exactly what it says its. It takes the expertise that went into making Red Hat and SuSE's distributions of Linux portable to IBM's mainframe (z Series) and Unix servers (p Series) and bottles it up into a turnkey porting tool that commercial software developers can use to painlessly port their apps from the x86 version of Linux to IBM's big iron systems (thus "hopping chips").

Said Handy in my interview with him, "We've already chiphopped, if you will, Red Hat and SuSE, and now we're going to automate chiphopping for [commercial software developers]." For IT shops with internally developed code that have an interest in chiphopping, their only choice right now is to go with with IBM's Global Services consultancy. Saying, "Once we do more of this, could this be expanded to customer workloads for customer written code? The answer is absolutely," Handy indicated that there could easily come a day when the technology is available to end users.

The Chiphopping program, which includes the porting tools, support, access to IBM's testing centers (so ISVs don't have to buy their own mainframes), and a compatibility logo (IBM's "Ready For" mark) -- all free by the way -- could have significant impact on everything from Java (previously, the only choice for such portability) to the viability of OpenSolaris as a development target to the continued viability of IBM's big iron. In the interview, Handy discusses Big Blue's unwavering commitment to Linux on x86 and how that's where it's pushing customers. But in light of the way the technology supposedly makes for painless porting to IBM's proprietary higher margin gear, Chiphopper will raise some obvious questions about the company's true motives.

Nevertheless, of all the announcements coming out of LinuxWorld, Chiphopper, in my mine, ties for first place with Scalix as not just being the coolest technology, but one that could be the most disruptive. To give you an idea of what Handy and I talked about, here are some of his quotes:

Most agreeable dig at HP's back to square-1 strategy: HP and Dell are off on a Linux/x86 only. HP has other architectures. They're certainly not promoting Linux on them in the marketplace. They're promoting a migration to -- it was exclusively Itanium but now it's Xeon with 64-bit extensions.

Best Chiphopper benefit statement: Take an existing Linux application that you've already ported to Linux x86 and we'll take the same application and make it run across [IBM's] entire eServer line.

Closest to being FUD: Nobody has ever delivered on cross platform compatibility for an application -- To say that I'll assure you that your application will work on multiple platforms. [Editor's note: Handy did acknowlege in the interview that Java delivers on that promise as well and characterized the Java approach as the ideal way to get cross platform compatibility with no need to recompile.]

Red rover, Red rover, we want YOU to come over (but never go back): We're clearly targeting the Solaris to Linux and Windows to Linux as opposed to actively promoting the movement off our own [platforms]. I think that's just normal behavior.

How to cut Sun's Jonathan Schwartz down to size 101: Now your asking 'Is there room for a third [OS to support on x86]?', and the answer is no. Sun has 1 percent of the x86 market..... But we've also said we'll look at [porting our apps to Solaris]. We do these things when the customers demand it and the opportunity is sufficient.....Let's not discount the fact that we're competitors. We're talking about the same customers. We're very confident that those customers will move to Linux on x86 and Sun is trying to talk them into something else.

Fiorina-talk at IBM's water coolers: Listen to the interview.