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Will Compaq cut back Unix plans?

Compaq is likely to drop development of its Tru64 Unix operating system for Intel's forthcoming high-end chips, analysts say, a move that would simplify the company's corporate product strategy.

Compaq is likely to halt development work on a Unix operating system for Intel's forthcoming high-end processors, analysts say, a move that would simplify the company's corporate product strategy.

Compaq has committed to releasing the Tru64 version of Unix for Intel's 64-bit "Merced" chips, but industry observers suspect the computer company won't go through with that plan. A reversal would pare Compaq's product line--but also indicate how difficult it is for Compaq to pursue several development and marketing plans.

The decision would mirror the end of the development of Windows NT and its successor, Windows 2000, for use on Compaq's Alpha chip, a move that led Compaq to dismiss about 100 engineers.

"They have too many operating systems on too many different platforms for it to be cost-effective for them," said Technology Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance.

"I think Compaq is going to back away from anything it doesn't believe is a slam dunk," even though many of the technical problems have already been solved and the new version of Tru64 Unix is good, added Terry Shannon, author of the Shannon Knows Compaq newsletter.

Compaq executives were not available for comment.

Tru64 Unix, formerly called Digital Unix, was one of several diverse and sophisticated properties the computer maker gained when it acquired Digital in 1998. But blending hardware, software, processors, and even Internet sites into Compaq's existing setup hasn't proved simple, and financial problems have in fact forced the Houston, Texas, company to cut as many as 8,000 jobs.

Tru64 runs on Compaq's Alpha chips; the company also has it running on a software simulation of Intel's upcoming Merced chip. After passing the Merced simulator milestone, the company said the step "reaffirms our commitment to offering [Tru64 Unix] on Alpha today and on both Alpha and IA-64 in the future." IA-64 refers to Intel's family of 64-bit processors, a more advanced line than the 32-bit chips which are now the desktop standard.

Shannon believes it's likely Compaq will cut development of Tru64 on IA-64. When he asked Compaq about the possibility, the company told him only that they "had no news on the topic at this time," Shannon said.

"Based on Compaq's behavior over the last month, anything they don't talk about is suspect," Shannon said.

In addition, the initiative to develop Tru64 for Intel's processors was conspicuously absent from Compaq's announcement of a $100 million marketing effort for Tru64 on Alpha chips, Shannon said. He said that the company is stratifying its operating systems, aiming different ones for different markets and trying to reduce the overlap.

Dropping development of Tru64 for IA-64 wouldn't leave Compaq empty-handed. Compaq has said it will sell systems with Monterey, a next-generation version of Unix that will combine "flavors" from IBM, the Santa Cruz Operation, and Sequent.

"They've been pretty clear positioning Tru64 on Alpha as the option for that solution, and Monterey and Windows 2000 on IA-64," Technology Business Research's Lesperance said.

"I don't think there would be a significant amount of volume on Tru64. They're looking for ways they can cut costs now," he said.