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AMD claims Microsoft delays are not ‘substantial’

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After watching Microsoft cast AMD's 64-bit processor line to the backwoods of the Windows release cycle, you have to ask - did Jerry Sanders do enough?

Two weeks ago Microsoft dropped a bomb. It pushed the first Windows Server 2003 Service Pack back to the second half of 2004. And along with the Service Pack go new versions of Windows for both AMD's Opteron (Windows Server 2003) and Athlon 64 processors (Windows XP). This places the Windows for AMD64 release close to nine months behind original expectations, adding risks to an already risky proposition from AMD.

You would think AMD deserves better treatment than this. The company's Chairman, Jerry Sanders, went to some lengths to get Microsoft on board the 64-bit train. Sanders agreed to testify on Microsoft's behalf in the antitrust trial, hoping, in part, that Bill Gates would consider going public about support for AMD's 64-bit chips. This was surely a bitter pill to swallow for a man always crashing against the Wintel collective.

But Sanders' efforts did not go far enough. Microsoft is dragging AMD along like a rag doll for its own convenience.

"Microsoft wouldn't inherently have to (keep the Service Pack and OS releases) together, but it's much easier for them to keep things aligned like this," said Gordon Haff, analyst at Illuminata. "And especially with their supposed increased focus on product quality with things like Trustworthy Computing, they're unlikely to shift schedules around willy-nilly."

Waiting for Microsoft must be painful for AMD. The company has struggled to post profits and is relying on the AMD64 chips to strengthen its bottom line. It has had some nice high performance computing wins with Opteron and Linux - SuSE in particular - but nothings spells market opportunity like 95 per cent desktop share.

"Windows support was such a big deal for AMD's benefit," Haff said. "So I don't see how anyone can casually dismiss it slipping out close to year from its original shipping schedule."

And yet AMD appears rather casual about the whole affair.

Cut to 23 September. Microsoft issues a press release, saying final versions of Windows for Opteron and Athlon 64 will be ready by the first half of 2004. This went out on the day of AMD's Athlon 64 launch. Enthusiasm from all partners required.

Then, just 21 days later, Microsoft says it made a wee mistake and announces that the OSes will not really be available until the second half of 2004. The timing on these announcements is curious to be sure.

One day after this bomb dropped, AMD's CEO, Hector Ruiz, fielded a question about the delay, during the company's third quarter earnings call.

An analyst asks: "Microsoft apparently yesterday pushed off the intro for Windows XP support for AMD64. What is the impact of that push-off, if you can confirm it?"

Ruiz responds: "We are working with Microsoft very closely to continue to stay on track with their release of the software. There is nothing substantial to add beyond that."

That holds true if you don't consider 95 per cent desktop market share substantial. Most people do.

An AMD spokesman said Ruiz was "being a good partner" in answering the question as he did. You never know what reporter was told something or when. But in reality, Microsoft told numerous media outlets about the delay the day before the call. You would think that a minion would make sure Ruiz is apprised of this delay from the world's largest software maker.

It will take a long while to suss out any long-term effects from Microsoft's delay, but in the short term, there are a couple of shifts.

AMD must back Opteron with full force and hope the chip can sell better than ever hoped. This isn't a horrible gamble given the processor's impressive performance and steady wins. It has thrived on Linux servers, and Sun Microsystems appears to be coming on strong with a Solaris x86 play. In fact, Sun will have a 64-bit version of its Unix ready in the first half of next year. This means that Sun, which earlier in the year dismissed any Opteron plans, will eclipse the long time backer from Redmond.

On the desktop, AMD can keep plugging away with Athlon 64 and Linux. It's a nice play. Not a '95 per cent of the market' play, but a nice one. And as AMD hones in on the Linux market, it can wonder whether or not Intel really has 64-bit desktop plans of its own. Microsoft has bought Intel some valuable catch-up time.

When all is said and done, however, it's clear that Jerry Sanders did not do enough. ®

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