Will Hammer get the support it needs?

AMD's got a new 64-bit chip. But where are the operating system vendor partners it needs to support it?

In the 64-bit space, Intel may have been plagued with slipping delivery dates and a dearth of hardware. But Intel can claim at least one major advantage over rival AMD: a plethora of operating system partners supporting its 64-bit efforts.

Advanced Micro Devices Thursday released to developers its initial software design guide for its 64-bit processor, x86-64, known by the interchangeable code names of "Sledgehammer" and "Hammer". Despite enthusiasm from consumers for the next-generation AMD chip, the Sledgehammer announcement was greeted rather coolly by operating system makers. AMD has provided some operating system companies and leaders, such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Linux creator Linus Torvalds with copies of the guide. (AMD also made the guide available on the Web.) But, surprisingly, the only company to lend its official backing to Sledgehammer so far is Sun.

Solaris vice president Anil Gadre contributed a quote to AMD's official Sledgehammer press release, saying: "Sun Microsystems' Solaris team is very excited about AMD's x86-64 [Sledgehammer] technology. We applaud AMD's ISV compatibility and upgrade strategy as well as their open technology announcement today. We will be following their progress closely as this technology comes to market."

Sun also has said it will support Solaris on Intel's IA-64 bit processor. But Intel officials have been openly critical of what they claim is Sun's half-hearted backing of IA-64, a battle some industry watchers chalk up to the ongoing rivalry between Intel and Sun in the chip space.

"There are definitely discussions going on between Sun and AMD," said Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo. "Their approach in working with third-party companies is far better than Intel's."

Would Sun be likely to drop work on IA-64 in favor of a Solaris Sledgehammer strategy? Probably not, said Castronovo. "We are already Itanium-ready. We've been saying that since the launch of Solaris 8. We have lots of customers who want Solaris on IA-64. The trick has been getting the hardware, which has slipped again."

Microsoft, like Sun, has said it will be ready to ship a version of Windows 2000 optimised for IA-64 as soon as Intel rolls out the processor. But Redmond wouldn't talk about its plans for supporting Sledgehammer.

"Microsoft is aware of what AMD is doing. We provided some feedback to AMD on its specs," said a company spokeswoman. She added that Microsoft had no further comment, and said she didn't know when or if Microsoft would lend its official support to AMD's Sledgehammer effort.

IBM, which has been working to support IA-64 on a couple of different fronts, also had nothing to say, in terms of official plans to support Sledgehammer. IBM has been working on a version of AIX that supports IA-64 as well as its forthcoming 64-bit Power4 chip. IBM is slated to release commercially next month a version of AIX, AIX 5L version 5.0, that will run on both the IA-64 and Power4 architectures. IBM also is part of The IA-64 Linux Project (formerly named the Trillian Project), an open source effort to port Linux to the IA-64 architecture.

IBM officials said Wednesday that they would evaluate adding support to the company's AIX operating system. However, they added that no decisions had been made yet.

AMD said it was working with "lots" of open source players interested in Sledgehammer. But, again, as of Thursday, AMD had no Linux vendors to cite as official supporters of its 64-bit chip.

The true mass markets for chips has not been in computers, but in newer smarter technolgy and the PC manufacturers are competing for supplies. Peter Jackson has details of a new technology to watch out for; a general-purpose hardware device that is actually a set of single-purpose devices in a single chip. Then maybe the consumer device makers can leave the PC market alone. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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