PALO ALTO, Calif. Adopting the open-source model of the software industry, Sun Microsystems Inc. said the source code for its picoJava processor would be available free-of-charge to developers by the end of this month. And later this year Sun will make its 32-bit and 64-bit Sparc and UltraSparc cores a part of its new Community Source Licensing Model.
Harlan McGhan, manager of architecture marketing at Sun (Palo Alto, Calif.), said the move will "make Sun's intellectual property [IP] openly available. With the click of a mouse," McGhan said, "you will be able to download IP for evaluation purposes, with no money, and no restrictions unless you want to sell products. And even then, if you develop a product but it doesn't sell, you don't owe us. We've tried to make this as painless and as inexpensive as possible."
The RTL code, tools, and other information will become available in stages at Sun's Community Source Web site.
The Web site will include an architecture specification, programmer's reference manual, instruction simulator, and RTL files of picoJava a processor designed for Java byte code. Plans call for an online community forum of licensees, individualized support by Sun engineers for customers, and a network of foundries that will manufacture the designs.
Sun's goal is to gain a larger share of the collective mind of the engineering community. Other companies have already moved to configurable, downloadable and lower-cost versions of processors, including the ARM, MIPS, 8051 and others. But in contrast to the software industry, hardware IP has been "carefully guarded," McGhan said.
With Sun's Community Source Licensing, "we are moving to a just-in-time [JIT] model," he said. "If you want to base your design on a Sparc or picoJava core, you can grab one under the research and evaluation use model, then move into commercial development immediately . If it turns out you don't need that core, you are not carrying any inventory. We think this fits in better with the system-on-chip movement, where you want to have a broad range of IP available on a JIT, build-to-order basis."
Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, said "Community Source Licensing is the distribution model for intellectual property in the 21st century. Today's up-front fee model restricts access to technology to only those projects that are fully funded at the outset. Lowering the initial costs of development allows companies to pilot new products more readily, get to market faster and take advantage of Sun's networking technology."
Sun is starting open-source modeling with picoJava, an architecture that faces a great challenge to establishing a presence in the market for portable and small-sized electronics products. McGhan said the speed and performance metrics for the picoJava cores would be detailed soon on the Community Source Web site.
Once designs based on the co res hit the market, per-chip royalties will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, McGhan said. "The fees will be very attractive and competitive."
Late this summer, Sun will make the source code for the 32-bit Sparc core available, and the code for the UltraSparc II core will be posted online by the end of the year. In all cases, designs based on the cores must meet Sun's interface and software compatiblity standards and testing a move aimed at widening the compatible software base. Information about the community source licensing model is available online.