Microsoft, Compaq team on NT/Unix link

Microsoft Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. last month formed a joint initiative to create greater interoperability between Windows NT and Compaq's Digital and Tandem operating systems for high-end systems users.

The partnership comes as Compaq moves to take advantage of technologies acquired when the company bought Digital Equipment Corp. and Tandem Computers Inc. last year. Compaq also wants to assure users that it will not abandon them as more and more people in both the commercial and federal market move to a mixed Unix/Windows NT environment.

Steve Kirchoff, vice president of strategic marketing for Compaq, described the initiative as a "signal to our customers that Digital Unix is strategically important to us."

"There is a really good size population of Digital Unix in the federal [market] today," said Tom Simmons, manager of federal sales for Compaq. "As federal customers migrate their mission-critical applications to [Windows] NT platforms, they will still have the ability to use the capabilities with Digital Unix."

Under the agreement, Compaq will add support for Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) technology to Digital Unix, placing Compaq's offering in a top position in the new market. COM is a code that creates objects that can be accessed by any compliant application. Supporting COM within Digital Unix will provide a base for the interoperability between the two operating systems.

Compaq has never owned an operating system before, which has kept it from competing head-to-head with vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Compaq produces desktops, workstations and servers, but always using other companies' operating systems.

"Once they took inventory, they realized they owned Digital Unix," said Jean Bozman, software analyst at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

The fact that most of its server and workstation business has been Windows NT-driven up to this point makes it especially important for Compaq to promote Windows NT/Unix interoperability, Bozman said. "From Compaq's perspective, it makes good sense to facilitate interoperability between the Unix systems they want to sell and the NT servers they already do [sell]," she said.

"This announcement is in response to customer demand that both Compaq and Microsoft have been hearing," Kirchoff said. "We have provided a very clear direction for our customers to buy."

In the meantime, Microsoft will incorporate components of Tandem NonStop Kernel, Digital OpenVMS and Digital Unix into future versions of Windows NT, bringing the high-end clustering and fault-tolerance capabilities of those technologies to the fast-growing base of Windows NT users.

"This will allow even people who don't have high-end data center to take advantage of this technology," said Karan Khanna, lead product manager for Windows NT at Microsoft. "These are pretty much the crown jewels of high-end computing."

The changes will not be seen until well after Windows NT 5.0 comes out, however, because "our first strategy is to get 5.0 out," he said.

Analysts see the agreement as a good sign that Microsoft is taking advantage of the years of expertise that Compaq and Digital can offer in the Unix space rather than making the same mistakes while trying to put the technology together themselves.

"Microsoft is finally admitting that they can't do everything for everyone, everywhere and do it very well," said Dan Kusnetzky, analyst at IDC.

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