SGI's Unix variant fading into history

Silicon Graphics to stop selling computers using MIPS chips and Irix operating system at end of 2006.

Silicon Graphics will phase out its Irix operating system and the MIPS chip-based computers the Unix variant runs on at the end of the year, 18 years after the once-vaunted computing company introduced the technology.

"After nearly two decades of leading the world in innovation and versatility, the MIPS-Irix products will end their general availability on Dec. 29, 2006," SGI said on its Web site. SGI will still sell some systems "through special arrangement only" after that, and support will last through at least December 2013, the company said.

The move isn't a surprise. SGI has been moving its product line to Intel's Itanium processors and the Linux operating system in recent years. But it does mark the end of another chapter as the computing industry whittles down the list of hardware and software foundations in widespread use.

SGI rose to glory with high-end machines, particularly those suited to graphics work such as the creation of dinosaur special-effects for the movie "Jurassic Park." But SGI has struggled financially as mainstream computing equipment grew more powerful, and business-focused companies such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM turned their attention to high-performance computing.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company isn't the only one whose products fell victim to industry consolidation. Compaq Computer, shortly before its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard, decided to cancel its Alpha processors and bring its Tru64 version of Unix to Itanium. After the acquisition, HP decided to scrap Tru64 altogether. HP's version of Unix, HP-UX, is still actively developed, but as the company phases out its own PA-RISC chips.

Meanwhile, Linux, an open-source alternative that closely resembles Unix, has risen to prominence in part because it runs on mainstream x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. The three major versions of Unix that still are under active development are HP's HP-UX, Sun Microsystems' Solaris and IBM's AIX; of those, only Solaris runs on x86 chips.

Among other versions of Unix that have fallen by the wayside in recent years are Sequent's Dynix/ptx, which vanished after IBM bought the company; Data General's DG/UX, which disappeared along with the Aviion server it used after EMC acquired the company; and Fujitsu-Siemens' Reliant.

The SCO Group's two Unix versions, OpenServer and UnixWare, have been steadily dwindling in popularity, though the company continues to market the products. SCO's product revenue dropped from $7.9 million in the quarter that ended July 31, 2005, to $6.2 million in the same quarter this year, the company said this week. SCO is suing IBM, alleging that proprietary Unix intellectual property was improperly incorporated into open-source Linux.

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