Stories by John Costello

Compaq drops Alpha/NT combo to much customer confusion

Is it the end of the road for Alpha or NT as far as Compaq is concerned? It was understandable that the company did not want to shout the bad news from the rooftop. The local (Australian) operation had no comment to make on the news that Compaq was abandoning NT on its Alpha hardware platform.
For a handful of organisations it was bad news. They had adopted NT on Alpha. For the 100 people working for Compaq West near Seattle, it was even worse news. They could lose their jobs.
Here, as in the US, there were few organisations that had opted for the combination of NT on Alpha. It appears most Alpha users have been content to stay with the tried, tested and trusty OpenVMS operating system.
So with a new CEO at the helm in Houston, this raises a number of questions for Compaq.
But first, let’s set the scene. Compaq acquired the Alpha technology when it bought DEC. Sure, the company said it was buying Digital for its services business, but Alpha came with it. Compaq has been pushing hard with NT on its Intel-based servers. NT has hardly made any impact on the Alpha users. More recently, Compaq has also been championing the cause of Unix and Monterey, the 64-bit version of Unix from SCO. On the hardware side it is also backing Intel’s 64-bit Merced as well as Alpha.
Just to confuse the issue, Compaq is also backing Tru64 Unix, previously known as Digital Unix. To confuse the issue further, Compaq has also ported Tru64 Unix to Merced. So on the hardware side Compaq has two runners: Intel and Alpha. On the operating system side, the company has four runners: NT, OpenVMS, Tru64 Unix and Monterey.
This is all a little confusing. There’s only one other company with such a line-up — IBM, which has S/390, RS/6000, AS/400 and Intel on the hardware front. Each of the first three has its own operating systems: OS/390, AIX and OS/400, while on Intel you can have from IBM any flavour of Windows, plus NT, SCO Unix and, of course, Linux. IBM justifies its operating systems offerings as simply responding to customer demands.
But for Compaq the situation is rather more confusing. It has had to stand by OpenVMS, because that’s what the majority of DEC users want. It has been pushing NT and Windows 2000, because they were seen as the way of the future. We are now getting almost daily reports that Windows 2000 is more likely to be Windows 2001.
So is Compaq signalling that it is losing faith in Microsoft? Or is the company starting to soften up its Alpha users to the fact that the end may be in sight for them?
Who knows? Michael Capellas, Compaq’s new president and CEO, should move quickly to clear up the situation. Compaq must have some very nervous and confused customers. Its competitors must be rubbing their hands.
John Costello is the editor of Computerworld Australia