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Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris project has quietly announced the operating system that just added support for Sparc has now been ported to ARM - commonly used in embedded devices, handhelds and, increasingly, netbooks.

It is perhaps an indication of how just stressful things are at Sun these days, with the $5.6bn acquisition by Oracle hanging over it combined with what's shaping up as terrible fiscal fourth-quarter results coming ahead of the crucial July 16 vote by shareholders on the Oracle deal, that no one at Sun or OpenSolaris mentioned the ARM port was coming when announcing OpenSolaris 2009.06 last week.

The leader for the ARM port of OpenSolaris is William Kucharski, who leads the PowerPC and container development efforts for Solaris and who is also the leader of the port to IBM's System z mainframes.

IBM and Sun made some noise about this mainframe port last November when IBM finally and officially sanctioned the deployment of OpenSolaris on mainframe engines configured originally to run Linux. Since then, this Sirius variant of OpenSolaris has gone about as far as the Polaris port for Power iron: just this side of nowhere.

Late last year, Sun announced that OpenSolaris was supported on Intel's Atom processors.

It is hard to imagine there is a lot of room for OpenSolaris on the kinds of devices served bv Atom-based processors, a market where Linux is finding a home and Windows could extend its existing PC hegemony. Linux is being customized by many different projects - there's Google's Android and Intel's Moblin for netbooks and possibly for so-called "smartbooks" - plus the question of whether Microsoft will port the Windows client operating system commonly found on laptops and desktops to ARM. Windows Mobile already runs on ARM-based phones.

Then again, a good device can drive the operating systems’ sale. Look at the iPhone. End users and consumers buying these new classes of computers don't really care what the operating system is, even if the vendor does. And that means OpenSolaris might have a better chance on netbooks and smartbooks and other devices than it does on the desktop.

Of course, this would have to be true by definition, since OpenSolaris has very little chance on desktops outside of the Solaris developer community.

One problem with OpenSolaris on ARM-based machines is the relative lack of applications. OpenSolaris 2009.06 has 1,700 applications, as this review of the operating system at Ars Technica correctly pointed out, a lot lower than the 26,000 packages in the Ubuntu repository, for example.

While the OpenSolaris repository has most of what developers need to create code as part of their day jobs or hobbies, ARM-based machines are all about end-user applications.

The OpenSolaris ARM port, as you can see from the updated OpenSolaris 2008.05 release notes, is actually based on the initial 2008.05 Project Indiana release of OpenSolaris, which is now two releases behind.

The ARM port is specifically for NEC's NaviEngine 1 multicore system-on-chip ARM processor and a reference board outlined in the release notes. There’s no word on when the ARM port will catch up and be part of the standard releases, or when other ARM chips and products will get support. ®

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