In a move that effectively discontinues support for Windows NT on Alpha, Compaq has laid off 100 laboratory staff in the US. The staff worked exclusively on porting Windows NT to the Alpha platform.
According to a source inside Compaq West (formerly DECWest), a set of labs used to port Windows NT and 2000 to the Alpha platform, Compaq pulled the plug on NT for Alpha last week.
"Compaq was very clear that Alpha would be used for Linux, Tru64 Unix, and Open VMS," said the source, who requested anonymity.
The source said that the decision came as a surprise to Microsoft officials, and the software giant was considering pulling out the Alpha code currently written into Windows 2000. The dilemma now facing Microsoft officials is what to do with the hundreds of Alpha systems now beta testing 64-bit versions of Windows 2000.
"All the development is being done on the Alpha, so how can you just pull the plug?" the source said.
Locally, Compaq officials made no comment on whether support for Windows NT on Alpha for Australian users would continue, nor whether any job losses would occur.
Local users were also unsure of the potential ramifications. For John Mitchell, IT manager at Woods Bagot, the news may affect the organisation's eight separate offices.
Mitchell, who was unaware of the news until contacted by Computerworld, said the impact would depend on how quickly the changes were executed. "It only worries us it if falls over," he said.
"I'd really have to wait to see what it means . . . if there's no support . . ." Mitchell said.
Kevin Orsman, computer manager at Nine Network Australia, said he didn't see any problems, "not really . . . maybe in the longer term".
Orsman is running VMS on Alpha at present. "I would have some concern if the news is true," Orsman said.
"Who knows what Compaq's doing anymore," he commented.
Robbie Baxter, systems administrator at Penrice Soda Products, has fairly new machines running NT on Alpha and hence had some cause for concern. "It's definitely going to have a great impact," he said.
The atmosphere at Compaq West was described as "awful" and "grim" by insiders. Employees are being encouraged to stay on board until the completion of Service Pack 6 for Windows NT 4.0.
Inside the halls of Compaq West, opinions on the reason for the pullout varied from the speed of the Intel eight-way architecture obviating the need for Alpha to low percentages of NT-on-Alpha users. Analysts concurred with the latter.
"Alpha is the sole survivor of the various RISC implementations, and Microsoft has been getting some mileage out of having [Windows NT] on that platform," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies. Davis said the timing of Compaq's decision was tricky for Microsoft, where officials have been working feverishly to get Windows 2000 out the door in 1999.
"Alpha as a platform has been very much a niche product anyway, and tended to be a high-end niche product [which is an area] where NT has not been particularly strong anyway," Davis said.
"With Windows 2000 around the corner, you would think there might be something of a surge in interest of that system on Alpha."
"This makes me wonder about the prognosis for Alpha," Davis said.
"At Compaq there have been major management shake-ups, and this could be something that's fallen by the wayside. It's a very expensive venture and maybe hasn't generated the kind of return Compaq would like to see on it."
The move is not likely to be the last from Compaq. Another employee who preferred to remain anonymous said that Michael Capellas, he newly appointed CEO, addressed the support division last week and expressed dismay at the number of support personnel.
"He was very evasive, but he said that the company would have to study the situation very carefully and make some decisions," said the employee. "He said they were going to have to find out what those people were doing."