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Sun Microsystems' flirtation with AMD continues with the Java Desktop System set to make its way onto the Athlon 64 processor.

When Sun releases the Linux-based Java Desktop software later this year, it will run on AMD's Ahtlon 64 processor but only in 32-bit mode. Sun plans to rectify this situation "over time" and create a 64-bit version of the Java Desktop for AMD's AMD64-based desktop chip.

"We want to make sure people understand that there is an alternative out there," said Sun's CTO of software John Fowler.

Sun touts the Java Desktop as a safer, simpler more stable alternative to Microsoft's Windows operating system. It sells the Java Desktop for $100 or for $50 per employee if purchased in tandem with Sun's Java Enterprise System.

Rather ironically, Sun champions AMD's chip as a winner because of its strength handling graphics intensive software such as gaming or video apps. With a 64-bit chip, AMD gives users the potential to tap into larger amounts of memory and have high-end, server class desktops. The high-end desktop, however, is exactly the market Sun is not targeting with the Java Desktop.

Sun has billed its Linux OS as an option for workers that need a basic desktop for fixed function types of tasks. Think call center.

Sun reconciles this mixed message by saying its backs anything that encourages 64-bit computing.

"There is this notion that everything becomes 64-bit over time," Fowler said. "AMD is heading toward this and creating an interesting volume play."

Fowler is well-liked in these parts, but we think the marketing types are pushing him a bit toward gwana-gwana country here. Why? Because Sun won't say when it will support 64 bits.

This hush hush stance on 64-bit Linux and Solaris x86 applies to both Sun's server and desktop aspirations. Sun's CEO Scott McNealy assured us several months ago that Sun was tuning Solaris x86 to take advantage of the 64-bit extensions in AMD's Opteron server chip.

Fowler says the work is largely done. Sun's rigorous testing process is delaying the release of the 64-bit code. Since the software CTO plays straight with The Reg, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Our sources indicate that Sun is busy testing the 64-bitness of Solaris x86 on an Opteron-based workstation. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Sun comes out and declares that it has the only first-class version of Unix around for Opteron. Windows and Linux are nice on two processor machines, but wouldn't Solaris be a treat on a four processor system?

It's with Opteron that Solaris x86 could truly shine, and gain some serious market share. For example, we hear that Boxx Technologies' phone has been ringing off the hook, since word came out that Sun has certified Solaris x86 to work on a two-processor Boxx box*. Boxx is trying to hammer out a deal with Sun to formalize a support agreement, so we hear.

With Athlon 64, some other potential points of interest appear. Coders could use the Java Desktop or Solaris x86 as a powerful development platform.

No matter how you look at it, Sun is warming to AMD's 64bit chip line in a fairly serious way. Earlier this year, McNealy dismissed the idea of making Opteron-based gear altogether. Now, McNealy declares, "Never say never." ®

*In addition to the Boxx system, Sun has recently certified a two processor server from Celestica. The server has 1.6GHz Opterons, making it a tad faster than the Boxx kit.

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