'

Sun and AMD play the same game

Sun is copying Linux. AMD is copying Intel. It may look like a lack of new ideas, but it's actually good news for technology

The IT industry thrives on visions of the future. Whatever you've got, you need a new one. Tomorrow is faster, flashier, cleverer. Sign up to our bold new idea, say the innovators, and watch your competitors – and ours – vanish in the dust.

When Sun and AMD roll out their ideas for the near future, the picture becomes a little clearer. Sun's Solaris 10 will be available for free – revenues coming from support subscriptions -- and the company is very keen for you to know it runs on x86 processors. It'll run Linux software too, next year. Meanwhile, AMD is starting to let the world know about Pacifica – a high performance x86 64-bit chip that will combine dual cores with virtualisation and built-in security features. That'll be the top end – elsewhere, very cheap consumer x86 chips will have a swipe at the embedded markets and there's something simmering in portables.

So far, so good -- and so familiar. Isn't Sun playing the standard Linux business strategy? And what has Intel been trialling for the past year if not multi-core virtualising x86 64-bit chips with built-in security, consumer x86s and low power portable x86s? Of course, all parties concerned promise their own particular brand of magic to make their products better than the competition – but the underlying trend is undeniable. We are heading towards a future of remarkable uniformity, in which the battles of the last twenty years subside into ancient history. All the chip choices that might have been – Alpha, PA-RISC, MIPS, 68K, PowerPC – are either dead or niche: some very big niches, true, but nothing with a claim to universality.

To those used to spirited mayhem in the market, such standardisation will seem pallid fare. That's a mistake: there is plenty of room for inventive growth away from hardware and operating systems. None of the major problems facing IT today – security, manageability, usability – will be fixed by changes to kernel or processor architectures. Those issues can only be helped by stability and continuity in the foundation levels of computing, freeing bright technical minds with sharp commercial acumen to concentrate on innovating where it matters.

As long as we keep our right to create software and distribute it as we see fit, the future is still bright.