The software backlog: OSF/1 for the Alpha RISC not expected to arrive before late 1993 Besides the Alpha chip and the Alpha hardware, Digital Equipment Corp has to come up with some Alpha operating systems too. According to an informed source, the current DEC schedule, which the company may already be tinkering with to make […]
The software backlog: OSF/1 for the Alpha RISC not expected to arrive before late 1993
Besides the Alpha chip and the Alpha hardware, Digital Equipment Corp has to come up with some Alpha operating systems too. According to an informed source, the current DEC schedule, which the company may already be tinkering with to make it more aggressive, doesn’t call for anything to be ready until the late fourth quarter and then it’s on the VMS side – a software developers’ environment. The promised OSF/1 software doesn’t follow until sometime in early 1993 beginning with an initial version that includes C, C++, graphics options, DECnet, X.25, software engineering tools and bundled TCP/IP. Even that, it is reported, will not be commercial quality. The market will supposedly have to wait around until late 1993 at the earliest for a more robust system that begins to resemble what Hewlett-Packard Co and Sun Microsystems Inc already have today and that can do symmetric multi-processing. Before this point is reached, however, supposedly in the late first half of 1993, DEC is scheduled to announce Microsoft Corp’s NT, the third Alpha operating system. However, observers think that according to what is currently known about DEC’s prospective Alpha hardware it looks to be too expensive for the Microsoft operating system. The lowest cost Alpha box on the horizon is rumoured to be the Sandpiper desktop at $15,000. Of course DEC is planning to finish design work on a scaled-down lower cost version of the Alpha chip late this summer but when that will wend its way into a marketable system remains to be seen. Even the VMS side of Alpha doesn’t bespeak the company getting to market any sooner. In the first quarter of 1993, DEC is supposed to have a version of VMS that includes a software engineering environment, TCP/IP, X25, a relational database, Ada and networking. However, it won’t be until the third stage of the VMS rollout in the second quarter of 1993 that Alpha gets symmetric multi-processing. Hence, the schedule seems to imply that DEC won’t be able to ship any multi-processor hardware before this point. This stage three VMS software also includes Posix compatibility, distributed computing and full clustering. What is still lacking is the horsepower needed for transaction processing. That apparently makes its debut in the third quarter of 1993 with an enterprise system that includes SNA support and volume shadowing. Software being software of course raises the innate scepticism that these deadlines can be met let alone moved forward.
More intelligence on the first models, state of play on the chips
The missing DEC Alpha machine in our list last week (CI No 1,870) is thought to be a $50,000 box called Sable. Meanwhile, our sources say the Flamingo Alpha box is a deskside or floor-standing model and that Sandpiper is the desktop. On the basis only that a Sandpiper is a tiny little bird and a Flamingo isn’t, that sounds reasonable. The source has Sandpiper coming at around $15,000 and Flamingo at $25,000, but hears that Flamingo may get killed off before it has a chance to fly. He also has Laser in uniprocessor configurations staring at $175,000.Contrary to what we’ve heard elsewhere, DEC was bragging last week about how its first pass fabricating Alpha produced a chip that was fully functional and ran at full speed: it also said it currently had the capability to produce in volume, just no need to before the summer – but declined to discuss what the volume was. It had a 100MHz Alpha in 1990, a 150MHz last summer and now has 200MHz. Analyst Terry Shannon says that it was true last year with the EV3 version that DEC did not have a fully functional chip, but now DEC has advanced to EV4 the floating point problem has been fixed.
DEC looks to announce second sources for the Alpha within weeks
In Europe, Pier Carlo Falotti insisted that other Alpha announcements will be following over the next few weeks, although, he said, there are still details to work out over the (probably two) semiconductor partners – a key hurdle before it gets t
he chip accepted by other system vendors. In the US, Digital Equipment Corp claimed to be in active negotiations with one unidentified semiconductor house. Speculation pointed to NEC Corp being a suitable candidate. Meantime the company is setting up 30 centres where end users and software houses can go to recompile their software for Alpha. Software written for the MIPStations and VAX machines will of course not run at the same speed as stuff written specifically for Alpha. DEC estimated they would be 30% to 50% of their former selves. The centres are also anxious to service new applications, particularly those in such new markets as multimedia and imaging. DEC claimed 300 third parties are prepared to move their software to Alpha and that next month a series of announcements will begin on who has opted to back Alpha.
Delay in announcing NT agreement with Microsoft sounds like haggles on price
DEC was acting odd and mysterious last week issuing a two-line press release about having serious discussions with Microsoft Corp about supplying NT on Alpha but not being at liberty to say more. What gives here, guys, everyone else thinks it’s a done deal. Our sources are betting it’s a case of DEC trying to get better pricing out of Microsoft. After all DEC will doubtless be licensing NT on to the manufacturers that buy licences for Alpha, and that will make for a complicated royalty structure.
The gurus have their – impressed and sceptical – says
UBS Securities vice-president Marc Schulman, probably the first analyst of any description to detail DEC’s Alpha strategy to the outside world, found the bit about Privileged Architecture Library Code – PALcode – and the chips being operating system-independent really interesting: it’s Network Application System in hardware, he claimed. RISC Management editor Andrew Allison, in reacting to the Alpha announcement notes that DEC has invented some pretty esoteric processes to produce the chip, yet anybody can have it. Just how easily will it be, he wonders, for other semiconductor houses toreplicate it? Then again how good will DEC’s yield be? Allison is also cautious about keeping a weather eye cocked on all these competitive lead times. DEC, which he claims is being cagey with when any Alpha boxes will really be available, only has a paper performance lead right now. By fourth quarter, MIPS Computer, Hewlett-Packard Co and IBM Corp will have chips in the 150MHz neighbourhood.