---

According to Compaq

By Linux Today reader Joseph
DiLascio

11 Sep 99

At the last FLUX (Florida Linux Users’ Exchange) meeting, the
guest speaker was an engineer from Compaq who came to discuss the
company’s support of Linux on the Alpha processor. With all the

discussion on Slashdot recently
I thought I’d try to answer
some of the questions brought up, because I think the people inside
Compaq pushing Linux on Alpha are doing good things.. despite what
anyone may think of the company as a whole.

1. What’s Compaq’s “OS plan”? (Are they dropping Tru64 and
moving to Linux.. etc.)

In the server area, at least, they’re focusing on three:

  • Tru64 on Alpha for high-end, high-performance, high-etc.
    applications
  • Linux on Alpha for not-as-high-end-etc.-etc.
  • SCO on x86 for.. well.. the x86 market

In their role as a hardware vendor, they are officially “OS
Agnostic”, though.

1a. What about Linux on x86? Not likely to be
really supported by them any time soon. They make good money with
SCO and that’s what they’ll keep trying to do.

2. What’s the deal with this new C/Fortran compiler? (Are
they using glibc.. Is it GPLd.. etc.)

A number of customers liked the idea of Linux on the Alpha,
but didn’t like the performance and/or lack of source-compatibility
with other Unices in the area of threading, etc. of GCC and the
standard libs[1]. So Compaq figured it would be a good idea to make
the development tools consistent between Tru64 and Linux… so they
undertook the task of porting their Tru64 compiler and runtimes
(no, not glibc) which is what that story on Slashdot was all about.
The result is code that more fully exploits the power of the Alpha
processor. As far as the GPL… the Alpha people tend to prefer
BSD-ish licenses; as far as opening up the compiler and libs.. not
right now, but maybe someday.

3. Does Compaq really give a damn about freedom and
openness.. or are they just jumping on the bandwagon in the hopes
of quick profit?

The impression I got was a bit of both. They’ve already
released source and hardware specifications to get Linux running on
Alpha… but they can’t necessarily do that for every component of
their systems (i.e. video controllers which aren’t Compaq’s, but
come from other companies). Yes, they’re out to make money… but,
like many of the other big players who have been getting into the
Linux game (IBM, etc.), there are people inside the company that
like Linux and free/open software for what it is, not just because
it’ll make them a buck.

3a. Isn’t Compaq a slave to MS like so many other hardware
vendors?
Not when it comes to servers (see #1). I don’t
think they’re looking at putting Linux on desktops at the moment
(like Dell seems to be). Compaq and Microsoft do go a long way
back, and the relationship apparently is a great one for both of
them.

4. Will they kill Alpha if/when IA-64 becomes
viable?

The three main goals of the Alpha are:

  • Speed
  • Performance
  • Going Fast

That said, Alpha will be around as long as it’s the quickest thing
out there… which it probably will be for the foreseeable
future.

4a. Will the loss of NT on Alpha affect the viability of
the Alpha platform?
Not likely. NT on Alpha wasn’t selling
very well (but that isn’t all the fault of the Alpha people
*ahem*MS*cough*).

So it looks like Compaq’s support is a pretty good thing for
the Linux community on the whole (at least, for the adoption of
Linux at the high end… those who value freedom (open code, etc.)
above all else may not be satisfied). That doesn’t mean I’ll be
buying a desktop PC from them any time soon… but the Alpha is a
neat processor and Linux can do neat things on it. Advancing the
development of 64-bit Linux programs and Linux in general is
something I personally can respect and appreciate.

Final note: The above information may or may not be completely
accurate. I base all this on my impressions of the talk and Q&A
session with a representative of Compaq who spoke at the last FLUX
meeting. If you know of any errors, please let me know.
Also, thanks to the other FLUXers on the mailing list for their
thoughts.

[1] – One of the more interesting parts of the presentation was a
historical view of the development of “Unix”. I personally learned
quite a bit about what makes up the thing we call “Linux” today.
One thing Linux currently lacks is a 100% complete kernel threads
implementation. Pthreads are mostly there but they don’t work the
same way as on other Unices, and Solaris threads (arguably more
“standard” than pthreads among many software vendors) aren’t there
at all.