HP merger dominates Compaq Alpha briefing

Attendees at a Compaq briefing last week in Auckland to explain the transition from the Alpha to Itanium platform were more interested in hearing about Compaq's proposed merger with Hewlett-Packard.

Attendees at a Compaq briefing last week in Auckland to explain the transition from the Alpha to Itanium platform were more interested in hearing about Compaq's proposed merger with Hewlett-Packard.

David Gaffin, support services manager of reseller Ultimate Computer, says the real issue "isn't Itanium - it's about the operating system and the egos of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq".

A key question, he says, is whether there will be continuity of operating systems under the merger, with both companies having their own variants of Unix, HP-UX and Tru64 Unix.

As a Compaq reseller, the merger won't be the first Ultimate has seen involving the company. "We went through the Digital-Compaq transition and found it went pretty well," says Ultimate general manager Peter Gay. He says the move to Itanium, to be completed in 2004, "is the only way to go".

US speakers at the briefing earlier this month reassured those present that Alpha wasn't dead yet and re-iterated the benefits of the switch to Itanium. It also sought to reassure them about the HP-Compaq merger, though questions remain about it, with the US Federal Trade Commission asking for further information.

Under US law, once the FTC has requested information on a proposed merger, it has 20 days, after receiving the details, to either approve or oppose the merger. As well as the US government, the merger requires approval from the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau.

When the proposed merger was announced in September, the New Zealand Commerce Commission said it intended to look at the implications for New Zealand. Commission spokesperson Jackie Maitland said at the time that any action "depends on the nature of the merger".

The commission is keeping a "watching brief" on development, Maitland told Computerworld last week, but can do little until the merger is confirmed.

Meanwhile, plans to revive the New Zealand branch of DECUS, the international Digital user group -- which became a Compaq user group with Compaq's acquisition of Digital in 1998 -- are proceeding well, says Alan Dick, head of DECUS New Zealand in the 1990s.

"We've got a six-member board, including five representatives from user companies and one from Compaq."

At its peak, DECUS had 700 members in New Zealand, Dick says.

The board met Compaq Open VMS vice-president Mark Gorham when he was in New Zealand for the Compaq client briefing, Dick says. "We discussed a number of issues, including what operating system people will be running under the merger. We're getting statements saying the best features of HP-UX and Tru64 will be combined, which raises some concerns."

A key concern is the age difference between the two systems. "One was built some time ago, whereas the other is quite new and is 64-bit aware and, obviously, HP-UX has had a number of things added to it. The message we got is that no decision has been made yet as to what kernel will be used."

Other questions raised at the meeting included what will happen if the European Commission vetoes the merger, even if US authorities approve it, as happened earlier this year when the EC rejected the proposed GE-Honeywell merger. However, Dick understands that "a lot of information is being put before the EC and a repeat of the GE-Honeywell situation is unlikely".

Dick says Gorham told the DECUS board that the extent of opposition to the propsed merger by Hewlett and Packard family interests had been exaggerated, though last week, after Gorham's visit, Walter Hewlett, son of HP co-founder Bill Hewlett, filed a report with the US Securities and Exchange Commission opposing the merger.

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