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Is MS lobbying Compaq for more Merced Win64 help?

Jim Allchin begs for DECWest, allegedly...

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Microsoft is engaged in high level discussions with Compaq in an attempt to keep the latter's developers working on the Intel version of 64-bit Windows, and it's prepared to pay, according to informed sources. The claim comes, appropriately enough, as Microsoft demoed 64-bit Windows "booting and running" on Merced silicon, and promised a shipping OS next year. Microsoft and Intel were positively ecstatic about this massive breakthrough, glossing over the fact that Win64 didn't seem to do anything on Merced yet, whereas the Linux demo on the same silicon could run Apache. MS promises a Win64 beta for first half of next year, and the full OS when Merced ships, but the it's possible that everything in the garden isn't entirely lovely, unless Compaq can be induced to help out. Compaq has ceased development of Windows 2000 for Alpha, and in what we interpreted as a retaliatory strike, Microsoft abandoned all development for Alpha, leaving Compaq's apparent claim that it was still working with MS on 64-bit NT for Alpha looking pretty lame. Compaq director of corporate technical strategy Jim Boak wrote us a long email explaining why the companies were still chums and how we were exaggerating horribly. Said Boak: "Compaq has no intention of reducing the number of people or the level of hardware and infrastructure support we provide to Microsoft for [the Win64] effort. "We have met several times with the 64-bit development team to assure that we do not impact their ability to continue development. We intend to increase our investment in this development as the product moves closer to completion and the number of linked efforts, such as related Microsoft and third-party products, increases." This suggests that our more recent sources are gravely mistaken, as they claim that Microsoft VP Jim Allchin (long-suffering and long-time keeper of the OS shipment schedule) is currently negotiating with a Compaq exec called, er, Jim Boak with a view to paying Compaq to maintain a core group of Win64 developers at the DECWest facility. From what Boak said to us, however, there's no question of money changing hands. "Our benefit is in the in-depth understanding of the operating system, which translates into better integrated products for our customers and ISV partners and faster time to market for our platforms." In the interests of balance we should note that it is possible that our sources are boiling things down a little too thoroughly. In his recent visits to Redmond Boak will most certainly have been talking to Allchin about Win64, and Compaq's involvement in Win64 will certainly be deeply embedded in complex and wide-ranging strategic alliances between the two companies. But we're inclined to think an arrangement that simply gave Compaq stacks of green ones would be far too simple and tacky. MDA (Market Development Agreement) money now, that's more of a possibility. It does however seem to be the case that Compaq retains numerous cards when it comes to Win64 development. The key change in Compaq's strategy late last month, according to Boak, was that the company decided not to productise 64-bit Windows on Alpha (in which case Enrico Pesatori put it extraordinarily badly in his leaked internal memo, which majored on the cancellation of Alpha Win2k, and at best seemed to fuzz on 64-bit). Despite this, Alpha remains vital to Win64 for IA-64, he says. Windows 32-bit code for Alpha and Intel differs substantially, but "from the beginning" Win64 development has targeted a common codeline for IA-64 and Alpha, and as Alpha hardware is currently a lot more real than IA-64, Alpha (and therefore Compaq's developers) will remain vital for IA-64 Windows development. Confusingly, Microsoft says "both the 32-bit Windows 2000 family and 64-bit Windows use a common source code base," but although that might seem to contradict Boak, it could just as well be seen as giving an indication of the level of resources Compaq would have needed to get an Alpha version of Win2k (32-bit) out of the door. The common 64-bit codeline, on the contrary, means that work Compaq does on the Alpha platform gains it ground for the future IA-64 one, and while you might reckon Compaq of old would be keen to obtain a more concrete bottom line than that, Eckhard "ROI" Pfeiffer is no longer with the company. And actually, being of vital importance to the development of a Microsoft OS can be seen as being a pretty concrete return. Microsoft likes to have leverage against its partners, not the other way around, and Compaq can no doubt make something of this. But here's an interesting puzzle. If common code makes it a lot easier to develop Win64 for both IA-64 and Alpha, then why not continue with the Alpha version as well? Compaq would have saved money by skipping the more complicated Win2k project, but could then have swung back onto a far more cost-effective joint platform development roadmap. And that of course is what we initially interpreted (wrongly, says Boak) the Pesatori email as meaning. But Boak tells us: "Compaq placed an endpoint on our development of Alpha NT. It was our decision, made based on a number of good business reasons, foremost among them feedback from our customers... Microsoft was not involved in the decision. They have worked hard to adjust their own product plans and communications in response to our decision, but it was Compaq who made the call." Readers will have noticed that Microsoft had claimed that it had cancelled development of 32-bit and 64-bit Alpha products, but presumably this just means that MS didn't want its good buddies at Compaq to have to take all the flak... ®

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