It's been an interesting month. First, you have SGI
dropping their support of Windows NT and then next you have
dropping their support of Windows NT on Alpha. SGI scores
points here for being the first in the trend, and I think Compaq
scores points for making the biggest shock wave. The two events are
related in terms of what they spell for the future of NT. SGI was
at the outset, hoping to create hardware enhancements that would
plug into NT the way they had with IRIX, their Unix based operating
system. DEC was the last architecture that would support NT on a
Whether or not Microsoft will admit it or not, it's a retreat in
the battle for the future computing platform. By losing the support
of two major computer vendors, Microsoft has to do something. I say
that that something, given the eyes watching them and the
long-delayed release of Windows 2000, is spin.
Windows 2000 may be on time. Windows 2000 may be Microsoft's
next generation operating system. It may or may not be feature
rich. It may be their last hope. It may be a lot of things, but at
the moment, one of them it is definitely not: Hardware
Hmmm, I wonder what operating system provides a stark contrast
to that limited choice and lack of portability? Do I need to say?
Linux's support of hardware architectures is nothing short of
record setting(*). I'm not even going to start listing
hardware architectures, my articles are long enough as it
If you are in the business world and at this point are pondering
a new server operating system for the future I'd recommend that you
ask yourself a few questions:
Am I willing to limit my hardware buying choices to one
Am I willing to limit my software buying choices to one
operating system, that only runs on one architecture?
Am I willing to limit my new choices to those provided by a
single company that is taking ever longer to develop changes in a
world where change is accelerating? Beyond that, change and
adaptation to change are tantamount maintaining the status
Now for the easy part. The answers: No, No and No. Microsoft
promised a lot with the advent of Windows NT. A lot of the promises
boiled down to: "We are going do everything that Unix does."
Their success compared to many of the key strengths of Unix and
Linux is debatable. A lot of the issues get compared because Unix
was supposed to be NT's competitor at the outset. One of the
issues, however, they cannot debate. They cannot promise this
aspect of enterprise computing with Open Systems or Linux - no way,
no how. That one item helps to provide a healthy, competitive
market that fosters innovation and growth. In the absence of such a
market, choices go away.
In this case, Microsoft is not just asking people to forgo
choices in software, it's now asking for people to limit their
hardware choices as well.
By promising to kill off Unix, their perceived competitor at the
time, Microsoft was really saying that they were going to limit
choice at the high end, like they had been doing on the desktop. In
order to come through totally on all of these points, they had to
promise hardware portability.
Let's cover the retreat, in total. NT was going to support DEC
Alpha, SGI MIPS, Motorola PowerPC, Sun Sparc (Yes, at one time,
even that) and of course Intel.
This was because at the time, Intel x86 hardware pretty much
covered the low end of the computing spectrum, as it pertained to
raw power. For the moment, this gap appears to have closed
somewhat. But it's a gamble to think that it will stay that
NT had to be able to run on new processor generations without
much work. In other words, it had to be able to do what Unix clones
and variations had been doing for years. Portability is essential
when it comes to switching to better computing platforms and
embracing new exotic hardware.
If you've studied the work of Alvin Toffler (Future Shock), you
may recall that a good portion of his writings deal with change and
the rate of change. He was right about the fact that we are on an
exponential curve of change.
The Internet is accelerating what was already a blistering pace.
Change is happening faster now than it has ever happened before,
and of course even that rate is ever increasing.
New processor architectures and computing ideas are spawning at
a high rate of speed, and the next big thing, in terms of execution
speed or whatever very likely will not be Intel. It might be some
other company. Who knows? But, lets suppose for a second that two
changes happen at one time.
Let's suppose that we suddenly have change in the software
market, say a new operating system that provides a quality,
portable base of software. Let's say for the sake of argument that
this new O/S also turns out to have qualities that make it shine on
the Internet. Let's suppose that suddenly a new and/or faster
computing platform arrives as well.
Let's suppose further. Let's call that operating system Linux.
As for the processor, maybe it's an IBM chip. Maybe it's Compaq's Alpha design. Maybe it's
Intel's Merced. Maybe it's
HP's PA-RISC chip. Maybe it's an
unknown, that's been
holding back until now. There are a lot of possibilities.
I know, I know, a lot of maybes there. Maybe too many maybes.
But it's not a very big stretch of the imagination in this day and
age is it? Just one more maybe, and I'll move on. Should Microsoft
not figure out how to get their Merced port working, they will lose
support on the final platform that they support today: Intel.
Today, they cling to this platform like a cliff hanger with one
pinky on the ledge. And Linux already runs on Merced. No maybes
Should any of the above maybes come to fruition, you suddenly
have Microsoft chasing software and hardware tail
Maybe Microsoft feels that they didn't need to win the hardware
portability battle. I can't imagine that, what with all the noise
about any place and any device, but maybe they think that everyone
was just going to buy Intel, so maybe they got that base
But one thing is for sure. They've lost the hardware portability
battle. That victory belongs to Linux.
(*)The hardware portability record is held by NetBSD, according
to sources that I must admit didn't seriously flame me for being
wrong. Thanks guys!
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