Computer titans clash over Alpha

LAS VEGAS -- Digital Equipment Corp. officials are attempting to calm customer and partner fears about the long-term prospects for Alpha in light of the recent patent-infringement settlement between Intel and Alpha.

LAS VEGAS -- Digital Equipment Corp. officials are attempting to calm customer and partner fears about the long-term prospects for Alpha in light of the recent patent-infringement settlement between Intel and Alpha.

"We've gotten out of the semiconductor business and more into the systems business. Now someone else is managing the [chip manufacturing] process," said Harry Copperman, vice president and general manager of Digital's Systems Business Unit, who spoke to a private gathering of Digital customers and partners at the company's "Destination NT" event at the Comdex trade show.

"With Intel, we can accelerate our performance capabilities," he said. "And we do have a robust Intel business, and the [settlement] gives us Tier 1 status in building our products."

The bottom line, said Copperman: "Alpha's not dead."

He said there are multiple generations of the chip currently on the drawing board, and that plans to move the Alpha processor ahead are very much alive.

Digital's message was in sharp contrast to that of Compaq Computer Corp. president and CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, who basically dismissed the long-term prospects for an Intel-manufactured Alpha during a question-and-answer session following his Comdex keynote Monday.

"It may be a little premature to talk about Intel's Alpha," Pfeiffer said, in response to a question about Compaq's thoughts on Alpha vs. Merced, Intel's next-generation 64-bit processor.

"It's not clear what Intel will do with it [the Alpha]," he said. "Will they continue to offer two types of architectures? Will they exploit the Alpha? When?"

"Compaq has advanced -- with Intel and Microsoft -- the industry standard to its fullest impact. Merced's the next generation," he continued.

Digital also used Comdex to formally launch a new initiative between Digital and Microsoft aimed at gaining further penetration for Microsoft NT Workstation among current and future Digital customers. Microsoft and Digital have been working together on a similar effort aimed at increasing the acceptance of Microsoft's Exchange Server platform during the past 18 months.

"The default corporate desktop of choice going forward will be NT Workstation 5.0," noted Microsoft executive vice president of sales and support Steve Ballmer, who addressed the crowd at the "Destination NT" event.

"If you're buying technical workstations today, there's a real good set of reasons to be on NT," as well, Ballmer said.

He appealed to Digital partners and customers in attendance to bring to Microsoft's attention any remaining technical or business applications and/or services that have still not been ported to NT, yet which are critical to customers' businesses.

Remember, Ballmer told the crowd, "your customers don't need to pay the premium they're paying today for Unix workstations."