Compaq Kills 32-bit Windows NT on Alpha

UPDATE: Compaq Computer Corp. has confirmed it is ending development for 32-bit versions of Windows NT and Windows 2000 on its Alpha platform, but the Houston-based computer maker says development for 64-bit Windows 2000 will continue on Alpha.

"Compaq has decided not to support 32-bit Windows 2000 on Alpha systems," a Compaq spokesman said. "For development of 64-bit Windows 2000, Alpha is the platform. This doesn’t change the partnership with Microsoft [Corp.]"

The spokesman’s remarks follow reports late last week that Compaq was laying off 100 engineers in Bellevue, Wash., where they worked closely with Microsoft to develop the Windows NT-on-Alpha platform. "No decisions have been made on where [those engineers] will be," the spokesman said. "Some will take other positions within Compaq. There most likely will be layoffs to that team."

Most of the reports last week indicated that Compaq was scrapping NT on Alpha completely. Development of Microsoft’s 64-bit version of Windows 2000 has been taking place on the 64-bit Alpha chip. The 64-bit version of Windows 2000 is expected to be released next year in conjunction with the projected release of Intel Corp.’s first 64-bit chip, code-named Merced.

Neither company said outright that the 64-bit version of Windows 2000 will support Alpha when it ships. In a statement, a Microsoft spokeswoman said, "Compaq continues to work with us to deliver a 64-bit version of Windows to enterprise customers." She did not immediately return calls seeking elaboration.

Alpha is Microsoft’s only remaining claim to multiplatform computing with its Windows NT operating system, which is closely associated with Intel’s processors. Microsoft previously eliminated support for the PowerPC and MIPS.

While Microsoft has sold nowhere near as many licenses for Windows NT on Alpha as it has on Intel, the Alpha platform has been strategically important because it allowed Microsoft to scale beyond the limitations of commodity PCs and servers.

Alpha was developed by the former Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), and the facility affected by the layoffs was known as DECWest. Compaq’s troubles integrating DEC and another acquisition, Tandem Computers Inc., are widely blamed for Compaq’s recent financial troubles. Compaq president Michael Capellas recently projected 8,000 layoffs to save money.

During the last few months, Compaq officials have touted the 64-bit Alpha chip in relation to Compaq’s own Tru64 Unix and Linux, but they have said little about Windows NT.

Microsoft is moving quickly to purge 32-bit Alpha from Windows 2000. Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2, expected to go to beta testers in early September, will not include a version for Alpha, according to the Microsoft spokeswoman’s statement.

For its part, Microsoft is publicly positioning the move as an agreeable one between it and Compaq to guide customers toward the NT on Intel platform, which earned a leap in scalability with the release this week of Intel’s 8-way Profusion chipset. "Compaq and Microsoft recommend that their customers adopt 8-way x86 ProLiant servers and Windows NT 4.0 today, and Windows 2000 Advanced Server tomorrow," the statement read. "This is the simplification that Compaq and Microsoft customers have been asking for."

For its Alpha customer base, Microsoft says it will continue to support Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows NT Server 4.0 customers using Alpha, will continue to develop the upcoming Service Pack 6 for Windows NT 4.0 for the Alpha platform and will provide hotfixes as needed for Windows NT 4.0 and 32-bit Alpha-based products such as SQL Server and Exchange Server concurrent with x86 releases. -- Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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