Tadpole pushes mobile 64-bit Unix to developers

Tadpole Computer has been selling Unix notebooks to the military and independent software vendors at high prices, but now also wants to sell 64-bit notebooks to corporate software developers and is drastically cutting its prices in a bid to make its products more affordable.

However, a declining market for 64-bit Unix workstations and the increased performance of 32-bit notebooks could cause those corporate users to look elsewhere, analysts said.

Tadpole is focusing on developing mobile Unix workstations that allow software developers to bring their home development environments on the road or salespeople to demonstrate Unix software programs to potential customers. The company's larger "luggable" notebooks currently used by customers like the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation at prices of US$18,000 to $20,000 will become smaller and cheaper due to advances in cooling and manufacturing technology, said Mark Johnston, chief executive officer of Tadpole.

Corporations are looking for performance, security and reliability in mobile workstations, and 64-bit operating systems such as Sun Microsystems' Solaris and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX offer the better security features than 32-bit operating systems such as Windows or Linux, Johnston said.

Over the next few months, Tadpole will introduce notebooks with Solaris and Sun's Sparc processors that are similar in size to conventional desktop replacements and thin-and-light notebooks for about $4,000 to $6,000, Johnston said. The first conventional sized notebook, at about seven pounds (3.15 kilograms), will be released in early April, he said.

Getting 64-bit operating system and processor performance in a notebook required a great deal of work on cooling technologies for the products, Johnston said. The company's work on heat-pipe technology and forced-air cooling allowed it to shrink its notebooks to the sizes required by corporate travelers, he said.

Tadpole is committed to 64-bit Unix, despite the emergence of other 64-bit technologies such as Intel's Itanium processor, Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD's) Opteron and Athlon64 processors, and versions of both Microsoft's Windows and Linux for those chips, Johnston said. The cooling issues presented by Itanium wouldn't allow Tadpole to consider that chip for one of its notebooks at this time, he said.

Despite Tadpole's commitment, most users of 64-bit Unix workstations based on RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors are leaving in droves for cheaper workstations running Intel processors with Windows or Linux, said Pia Rieppo, principal analyst with Dataquest, a division of Gartner.

The overall RISC workstation market was half as large in 2002 as it was in 2000, based on worldwide shipments, Rieppo said. "The only reasons why people are staying with RISC are they have legacy applications that are too expensive or difficult to migrate, or if for some reason they need 64-bit capability," she said.

And with the new 64-bit processors from Intel and AMD expected to gain traction over the next couple of years, it will be hard to build a market around mobile RISC workstations, Rieppo said. "Within five years, they'll be lucky if there will be any RISC workstations at all," she said.

Tadpole will look at independent software vendors and research organizations as early potential customers for their notebooks, Johnston said.

Naturetech, based in Taiwan, also sells several mobile Unix PCs that run Solaris. The company's 777S series notebooks weigh between five pounds (2.25 kilograms) and 7.6 pounds (3.42 kilograms), depending on which optical drive is included, and sell for about $6,000 to $9,000, according to Gartner's Taiwan office.

After rolling out notebooks of various sizes, Tadpole will unveil a technology that allows users to connect their notebooks to their Unix datacenters using a new I/O technology, Johnston said. He declined to provide further details.

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