Barrett and Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates took the stage here to show a united front in the war against the old guard: machines using RISC chips and the Unix operating system.
However, it was clear from the presentations that Wintel still has a ways to go to catch up to the Unix/RISC realm. Both Intel and Microsoft are pinning much of their hopes on forthcoming products, Intel's 64-bit chips and Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system. Samples of the first 64-bit Merced chips will arrive in the next two months, and Windows 2000 will arrive later this year, the executives said.
Along with performance gains, the two executives said that Wintel workstation adoption will be driven by benefits of network collaboration with colleagues and customers.
Workstations are the powerful machines used for number crunching and other computationally intensive tasks such as designing chips, analyzing the stock market, or making special effects for movies. Along with the servers that form the fabric of computer networks, workstations are a product area where there are still profit margins to be found for hardware companies.
Number crunching prowess will jump up with Merced, Barrett said, and will double with its successor, McKinley, which is due in 2001. Merced has suffered delays, and Gates said: "We look forward to the Merced getting done," but said Microsoft and Intel are working closely to make sure Windows works well.
The fate of Barrett and Gates are tied closely together, but the joint strategy isn't as unified as it was in the days when Wintel computers surged to dominate desktop computing in homes and businesses. Although Microsoft aims to displace as many Unix machines as possible, Intel is trying to make its chips the "unifying architecture" used by Unix as well as Windows. Another sticky wicket for Microsoft is Linux, a Unix-like operating system that has been growing from Unix's traditional server stronghold into more and more machines.
A good case in point is SGI, the company whose Unix-based workstations were used for special effects in movies such as Jurassic Park. The company made the decision to begin offering Wintel workstations, which now are for sale and have won critical praise. However, SGI has said those workstations will be Linux-ready by year's end. In addition, SGI made Linux drivers available yesterday for the video card needed to power its 17.3-inch-wide, flat-panel display.
Gates yesterday acknowledged the Linux threat, but said it will be hard for the Linux developers to match the testing of all the different components of software to make sure they work together--an effort that has drawn a large part of the billion dollars Microsoft has spend so far developing Windows 2000.
"We compete with many operating systems, and Linux is one of the ones we compete with," Gates said, adding that "We're not seeing that many people move over to Linux. In the university environment, it's been very popular."
Barrett said that eight operating systems have booted up on the simulator of Intel's Merced chip, including Linux, but was careful to say Windows will be dominant. "The great numerical superiority, the demand is really IA/NT [Intel architecture running Windows NT], although we are supporting all the Unix or Linux versions as well," he said.
Sun Microsystems, the most stalwart Unix supporter, also is fighting to keep Unix a part of the landscape, offering Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 workstations at starting prices less than $3,000. Those products sold better than expected, Sun and financial analysts have said.
But Sun concedes there are advantages to running ordinary Windows programs such as word processors, offering an AMD-based computer-within-a-computer expansion card that lets Sun machines run Windows software.
Wintel has been gaining ground on other companies that offered Unix workstations, though, winning a place in the product lineup from companies such as IBM, Compaq, and Hewlett-Packard. Those companies haven't frozen their product lines, though; HP, for example, recently put faster chips into its workstations.
Newer IDC data predicts that Wintel workstations will win the revenue battle as well late in 1999 or early in 2000, Barrett said. In addition, IDC projected unit shipments for Wintel workstations are growing at 20 percent a year through 2003 while Unix shipments will shrink 5 percent a year.
DaimlerChrysler is switching from Unix workstations to Wintel machines, but the effort is still a long-term project, the company said.
Intel itself, trying to put its money where its mouth is, has been buying more Wintel workstations for designing chips. However, currently Intel machines are used only for designing circuit boards and is only part way toward using them for designing actual chips, Barrett said.
Barrett and Gates both said workstations will be increasingly connected as workers spend more time collaborating with others across the network, sharing designs, sending email, and holding videoconferences.
In one demonstration, Genedax's Hal Alles showed a collection of nine different applications, some of them the company's own and some of them Microsoft's. The chip design tools were plugged straight into Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser.
Korhan Sevenler of Xerox showed a Wintel workstation running a simulation of the effect of kicking the front panel of a photocopier--then automatically emailing the results of the simulation to a colleague.
But with this automation and integration comes security issues. The Melissa and Explore.Zip viruses spread themselves across the Internet automatically using the Microsoft software, and analysts have criticized Windows because it's relatively hard to gain administrator-level access to the machine.
Charles Stevens, vice president of Microsoft's application developers group, acknowledged that Windows NT lags Unix systems in security, but predicted Windows will surpass Unix in coming versions.