The first OpenSolaris kernel for the PowerPC has been released.

Developers working on the OpenSolaris project are now one step closer to bringing the Unix OS to the Mac, and have posted the kernel to

Solaris already runs on Sun, Intel and AMD processors, but this is the first time that a part of it has been publicly released for the PowerPC, 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 project. Thesoftware has been codenamed Polaris.

"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 project may have missed its main chance though. Apple is preparing to drop IBM's hardware in favour of Intel processors. The first Intel-based Macs are expected sometime this year.

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.