Compaq last week abandoned its project to port Windows NT to the Alpha platform in the 32- bit range, instead choosing to focus entirely on 64-bit development.
The move resulted in 100 staff being laid off in labs in Redmond, Washington, who worked exclusively on porting Windows NT to the Alpha platform.
According to Tony Bill, Compaq Australia's manager of the enterprise computer group, the redundancies were an unfortunate necessity in new CEO Michael Capellas's revitalisation plans and did not indicate a lack of commitment to the Alpha platform. "When Capellas took over he made some announcements about general staff redundancies. This does not mean that we are reducing our efforts with NT on Alpha. We are no longer doing any 32-bit development, effective immediately, but are still working on 64-bit NT on Alpha, effectively channelling more resources to where customers need it most," said Bill.
Bill suggests the more intense focus on 64-bit applications will expand NT on Alpha penetration, which at the moment is dismally behind Unix on Alpha uptake. "Certainly if you compare NT to Unix, Unix on Alpha is by far the preferred system. But one of the things Compaq's new approach will do is drive the development of more applications of NT on Alpha."
Opinions on the reason for Compaq's revised strategy varied from the speed of the Intel eight-way architecture obviating the need for Alpha, to low percentages of NT on Alpha users.
"Compaq has had some great advances on Intel platforms," said Tony Wilkinson, senior product manager for Windows with Microsoft Australia. "Traditionally, the main benefit Alpha had to offer was its high level of performance. Compaq has been able to achieve this performance on Intel eight-way architecture so it has made a decision to concentrate 32-bit development here and develop Alpha with 64-bit."
Analysts consider Compaq's decision a response to the shortage of NT on Alpha users. According to Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies, 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.
"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."
However, Bill contends that Microsoft supports the new singular strategy and that Compaq is very committed to Alpha. "The local interpretation of the situation is that Microsoft recognises that we aren't backing away from the relationship or the development of the technology, we are just changing direction. We want our customers to know that we intend to push the Alpha platform to be a market leader in 64-bit technology and we are planning to become more vocal than we have in the past about Alpha and invest more money back into it," he claimed.
Even without this eventuating, Bill insists existing NT on Alpha customers will have the full support of Compaq, which typically spans three to five years.