Compaq's dumping of NT on Alpha may help Linux

Users and employees who were banking on the success of Windows NT in Compaq's Alpha processor appear to be the losers of Compaq's decision to halt development of Windows on Alpha, but the move could further open the enterprise door for Linux.

Because of Compaq's decision to end Alpha support for 32-bit Windows NT 4.0, as well as 64-bit Windows projects, Microsoft last week followed suit and dropped its Windows development efforts for the Alpha architecture.

Companies that have invested in the future of the Alpha platform - such as Alpha Processor, in Concord, Massachusetts - have quickly changed their tune and are now whistling Linux.

"I don't think we can be overjoyed or say much positive about this," said Bruce Bradshaw, an Alpha Processor spokesman. "But NT momentum has been slow, and the momentum on Linux has been strong. So a lot of people are saying, 'If Linux is the play, let's all go to Linux'."

Compaq dropped its NT Alpha support one week after ending development work and laying off more than 100 employees. Dwindling revenue numbers, coupled with the introduction of high-powered, eight-way, Intel-based servers, combined to bring about the demise of NT on Alpha.

"The company realised that the Proliant side with the eight-way server was completely scalable, and it was a business decision to focus on the Proliants," said Steve Milmore, a Compaq spokesman.

"They took a good look at the numbers and said, 'This is not for us'," said Terry Shannon, a Compaq consultant in Boston. "It's really not that surprising in the grand scheme of things."

However, one analyst called Compaq's move a mistake.

"It is saying to the market, 'We don't want to be leaders'," said Michael Goulde, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group. "Compaq is turning into a bunch of volume-driven bean counters."

The move could also turn up the pressure on Microsoft and Intel to get Windows 2000 on Intel's 64-bit architecture to market as soon as possible.

"A lot of Microsoft's eggs will be in the IA-32 basket for a long time to come, IA-64's arrival notwithstanding. But if IA-64 should slip up, it would have ramifications for Microsoft," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies.

"Linux probably stands to gain the most from Compaq's backing away from NT on Alpha, since the company hopes Linux will emerge as the 'volume' OS on Alpha," Davis added.

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