Compaq Diverts Tru64 to alpha

Compaq Computer Corp.'s move to stop Tru64 Unix development on Intel Corp.'s upcoming IA-64 chip architecture effectively ends its efforts to make Tru64 Unix a mass-volume operating system.

The move once again underscores Compaq's continuing struggle to spell out a consistent plan for its acquired technologies. But it could actually result in a sharper focus on Tru64 Unix at the high end, said users and analysts.

Compaq Senior Vice President Tim Yeaton last week said Compaq will discontinue all Tru64 product development on IA-64 and focus instead on Tru64 for the Alpha platform.

"This is designed to clarify and strengthen our focus" on delivering separate lines of high-performance servers and those based on commodity Intel technology, Yeaton said. At the high end, Compaq will have Alpha-based servers running Tandem's NonStop Kernel operating system, Tru64 Unix and OpenVMS. Linux-based servers will fill out the low end.

On the Intel side, Compaq will offer Windows NT, Novell Inc.'s NetWare, Linux and The Santa Cruz Operation Inc.'s (SCO) upcoming Monterey Unix, a 64-bit Unix operating system that IBM, Sequent Computer Systems Inc. and SCO are working together to produce.

The news evoked a mixed reaction from users last week. Some said the move would simplify Compaq's enterprise offerings and strengthen its focus on Alpha servers at the high end, while other users called the decision another reversal of Compaq's earlier promises to make technologies it acquired from Tandem Computer Inc. and Digital Equipment Corp. broadly available.

Just last month, Compaq said it won't develop Windows NT for Alpha -- after earlier statements of support -- because of low user demand. Compaq acquired Alpha and Tru64 Unix when it bought Digital last year [News, Aug. 30].

"The whole pitch they have been giving so far is that you could use an IA-64 server for your [low-end] Unix applications and move right up through the Alpha line for unprecedented scalability," said Tony Ioele, president of the Digital Equipment Computer Users Society.

Disappointing Users

"With this, they are breaking that value chain," Ioele said. "I am not quite sure what they are trying to achieve with this. It is disappointing."

"I am not sure if they are cleaning house or whatever, but sometimes it is a little difficult figuring out which way they are going," agreed Robert Young, an Alpha server user and database consultant at ALI Database Consulting in Aiken, South Carolina.

"Their past emphasis has been with smaller Intel-based systems. It seems like they still haven't quite meshed that with their high end," Young said.

Others, though, saw the move as a positive development.

"It is disappointing in one sense, but it focuses Alpha on what it does particularly well" at the high end, said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire.

"It makes sense from my perspective as a Tru64 Unix user on Alpha," said Joseph Pollizzi, deputy head of the science and engineering systems division at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. With SCO already holding a dominant position in the 32-bit Unix-on-Intel market, it's logical for Compaq to also offer SCO Unix as the 64-bit Unix of choice on its Intel servers, Pollizzi said.

The move also puts to rest any speculation about where Compaq will spend its future 64-bit Unix development dollars: on Alpha, said Jeff Killeen, president of Information Design & Management Inc. in Hopedale, Massachusetts.

Compaq's efforts to port Tru64 Unix -- originally called Digital Unix -- to IA-64 was creating some doubt about the level of the company's commitment to Alpha.

"With this, we now know there is no fallback position for Alpha," Killeen said.

With 26,000 licenses sold last year, Digital Unix/Tru64 Unix accounted for a 3.4 percent market share in 1998. That was down 21.2 percent from 33,000 licenses and 4.5 percent market share in 1997, according to International Data Corp.

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