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Sun to release Sparc, Java CPUs as open source (ish)

Move to bring in more licensees -- and tie them into the platform more tightly

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Sun is to release source code and cores for its picoJava processor and its 32-bit and 64-bit Sparc and UltraSparc CPUs under its open source-style Community Source Licence. The picoJava source will be first to be issued to developers. It will be made available free-of-charge at the end of the month. Sun will release the chip's architecture specification, programming reference manual, instruction simulator and RTL files on its Web site. In the summer, Sun will add equivalent information and core designs for Sparc -- the UltraSparc date will be posted online by the end of the year. Sun's Community Source Licence permits developers to use the company's intellectual property free of charge for evaluation purposes and non-profit making products. Royalties only accrue if products based on Sun IP make money. "The fees will be very attractive and competitive," claimed Sun's manager of architecture and marketing, Harlan McGhan. They will also be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, he added. Commercial products based on Sun's chips will also need to meet Sun's standards for compatibility. The company has already placed its Java programming language, numerous Java APIs and Jini, its Java-based networked-device connectivity system under its Community Source Licence, and is to issue its Solaris variety of Unix under the same terms. It's a smart move on Sun's part. Not only does it win for the company much of the kudos associated with the open source movement, generally seen as a fairly philanthropic community, but it opens its software technology to the scrutiny of thousands of developers to make improvements. Not surprisingly, those improvements have to be passed back to Sun to do with as it pleases. Of course, the scope for budding chip designers to improve Sun's processor technologies are limited, so the gain Sun hopes to make by issuing them this way is clearly winning over more chip manufacturers to its platform. Sun's line is that the Community Source approach allows developers to get building products straight away without the need to first fund a licensing deal. In fact, it's not quite to kind-hearted. Developers will still have to cough up later, once the product is ready to launch, at which point it will be damn hard to decide to look elsewhere for the core technology if they believe Sun's "attractive and competitive" fees aren't. ®

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