The Rosetta Stone of software

Rosetta_stone_from_wikipedia Steve Jobs called it Rosetta after the Rosetta Stone – the key to translating the untranslatable. Others have referred to it as the Holy Grail.

The actual, less historic, name of  what you might guess is a pretty powerful piece of software is QuickTransit,  from Transitive, a company born in Manchester in the north-west of England, but now marketed and managed from Silicon Valley.

QuickTransit was the software that allowed thousands of programs written for Apple’s PowerPC-based computers to run on Intel-based Macs after Apple switched over to the new processors last year.

Around 6m Mac users are taking advantage of QuickTransit, a.k.a. Rosetta, in what Mr Jobs has described as the smoothest transition of computer microprocessors in the industry’s history.

QuickTransit has the unique ability to enable applications compiled for one processor and operating system to work on another without any noticeable deterioration in performance.

The company faced scepticism in finding what many considered to be the Holy Grail, but its success with Apple has banished doubts and led to a succession of deals.

When the chief executives of Sun and Intel announced an alliance in January for Intel’s processors to power some of Sun’s servers and for Intel to endorse Sun’s Solaris operating system, they knew that Transitive would take care of the translation.

At Sun’s JavaOne conference in San Francisco this week, Transitive announced QuickTransit for Solaris/SPARC to-Solaris/x86. This means the very broad eco-system of programs written for Sun’s Sparc processor and Solaris OS will run seamlessly on the new servers being produced with Solaris and Intel’s Xeon processors, which have very few programs written "natively" for them.

The software can therefore make changes from one system and processor to another a relatively painless one and remove one of the biggest objections to change when IT departments and companies consider replacing their old systems, as in the question: can we still use our old software?

The likes of Intel, IBM and Sun are using Transitive to help them move into new markets, including each others, with their technologies, which makes you wonder why none of them has yet bought the company.

"This is a highly strategic technology," admits Bob Wiederhold, Transitive chief executive.

"Companies are thinking not so much ‘Should we buy these guys?’ as ‘What happens if someone else does?’"