The operating systems battle between Windows NT and various flavours of Unix will not be significantly altered by the introduction of Intel's 64-bit chip Merced in mid-2000, according to a number of analysts.
Microsoft is working to make its Windows NT operating system run on Intel's 64-bit chip, and most Unix vendors have pledged that their Unix operating systems, some of which have run for several years on their own proprietary 64-bit chips, will work on Merced as well.
But Windows NT powered by 64-bit Merced will not necessarily give Windows the muscle it needs to jump from its stronghold on desktops and departmental servers into Unix's traditional space at the high-end, analysts said. In fact, Merced may instead give the Unix operating system a slight boost over Windows, because Merced will bring to Unix the lower-cost benefits of a commodity, standard industry hardware architecture, they said.
"It really does level the playing field for Unix on the volume and economies of scale side," said Laurie McCabe, an analyst with Summit Strategies.
If Unix on Merced gives mainstream computer makers a push to install the Unix operating system on their PCs, Unix vendors can enter the mass market in a way they have not done before, analysts said.
"It brings the commodity world to Unix," said Jon Oltsik, senior analyst at Forrester. "The benefit to Unix is that the acquisition cost/price differentiation really goes away."
For some Unix vendors, part of that lower cost will be discontinuing the manufacture of their own proprietary 64-bit chips.
"It should lower the cost for Unix vendors who choose to go with Intel because they won't have to continue developing their own proprietary platform to run Unix on," McCabe said. For example, Hewlett-Packard, Merced's co-developer, has announced that it will transition over users of its 64-bit Unix-based PA-RISC platform beginning in 1999, she said.
But Unix on Merced will not knock Windows off the desktop. Unix will still cost a bit more and be more complex to manage for some time, analysts said.
Nor will Windows NT on Merced necessarily gain the strength it needs to wedge into Unix's high-end space, analysts said. Compared with Unix, NT on Merced will likely continue to have issues of reliability, scalability and security, even as NT continues to nip at the bottom of the Unix market, Oltsik said.