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NT catches up to Unix

A new study shows that purchases of Windows NT servers have exceeded sales of Unix servers for the first time.

Windows NT has been hot on Unix's heels for a while. Now it's caught up.

A new study from market research firm International Data Corporation shows that sales of Windows NT servers have exceeded sales of Unix servers for the first time.

Unix servers from companies such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM have traditionally been the dominant server platforms in corporations.

The industry has been monitoring Windows NT's threat to this dominance for at least a year, but today's study offered firm numbers to demonstrate that boxes using Intel's Pentium Pro processor and Windows NT are now the system of choice at many corporations. The report attributed the shift to the higher cost of Unix systems.

"Preliminary data shows worldwide Windows NT server licenses outpaced Unix for the first time, with shipments of 725,000 and 602,000, respectively," the report said. "In 1997, systems vendors will rely more frequently on larger NT servers that are capable of running the same packaged application and database software as more expensive Unix systems."

The report, as well as a related IDC survey on the Unix market, pointed out that Unix servers will still maintain a strong position at the high end of the server market, where corporations still rely on them for the built-in security and fail-safe features that Microsoft and Intel are still struggling to match. Both Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard are strong players in the high-end market.

"Areas of strength for Unix systems include use as Internet, database, and application servers, as well as online transaction processing machines that approach mainframe reliability," the report said. Unix systems will also be on the forefront of a move to powerful 64-bit computing while Microsoft and Intel will remain in the 32-bit world for at least the next couple of years, according to IDC.

But while NT may be taking a bite out of Unix marketshare, the whole server market is growing as a result of the Internet boom. IDC said that revenues in the Unix systems market continued to expand during 1996, growing 12 percent worldwide to $34.3 billion. Large-scale Unix servers reversed a 30 percent decline in 1995 to report revenue just shy of the $1 billion level.

The report also said that IBM's OS/2 and Novell's NetWare have gained. "As these users require more servers, they often turn to NetWare for file-print services and to OS/2 for application, database, or file-print services."

The Unix workstation market was the only segment to experience a revenue decline because of increased Windows NT system sales. A study conducted by IDC last fall found that 85 percent of Unix sites would consider Microsoft's Windows NT workstations when buying new workstations and that more than half of large Unix shops already use Windows NT workstations.

In 1997, IDC expects the competition from NT on the low end to intensify, particularly as a battle between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems flares and each pushes its server operating environment to intranet customers and telecommunications companies.

In 1997, a new battleground will also open for 64-bit versions of Unix. Hewlett-Packard will debut its 64-bit version of HP-UX for its PA-RISC architecture. Not to be out-done, IBM and Sun will also introduce 64-bit operating systems in 1997.