Developers working on the OpenSolaris project have taken a step closer to bringing their Unix operating system to the PowerPC processor used by Apple Computer's Macintosh computers. On Sunday, developers announced that they had built the first OpenSolaris kernel for PowerPC to the Blastware.org Web site.
Solaris already runs on processors made by Sun Microsystems, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, but this marks the first time that a part of it has been publicly released for the PowerPC, which is built by IBM.
The kernel is the most basic part of any operating system, and with the PowerPC kernel release developers now have a strong basis upon which to develop a full-fledged version of Solaris for the PowerPC, complete with graphical user interface and system and developer tools, said Dennis Clarke, director of the Blastware.org project. That software has been code-named Polaris by the project's developers, he said.
"This is really just a first pass," Clarke said. "We have a kernel ported to PowerPC. It doesn't mean that we can boot it. It doesn't mean that we're running it. It simply means that we've crossed the first great leap."
The PowerPC port comes just as Apple is preparing to drop IBM's hardware in favor of processors built by Intel Corp. Apple has said that it will introduce its first Intel-based systems sometime this year, and Apple watchers are hoping to hear further details of this transition at the company's MacWorld Conference and Expo being held in San Francisco this week.
Polaris, however, is not being designed with the Macintosh in mind, Clarke said. Instead, developers are targeting systems built by a little-known European PowerPC system vendor known as Genesi SARL.
Clarke believes that a PowerPC version of Solaris may prove useful to other PowerPC users, including suppliers of "embedded" components that are designed to run a limited set of operations. Sun, for example, uses an embedded PowerPC chip running Linux to manage the hardware components on several of its systems, including the Sun Fire v20z, Clarke said. When Polaris becomes more mature, Sun would be able to use this version of Solaris on that component, he said.
In August of 2004, Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz revealed that his company had ported Solaris to the Power instruction set and promised that a demo would be coming "soon."
According to Clarke, however, a full-featured port of OpenSolaris to PowerPC is still nine to 12 months away.
IBM executives were not immediately available to comment for this story.