And so ends an era
It appears that Sun Microsystems has canceled their newest series of UltraSPARC workstations. I guess it had to happen eventually. Silicon Graphics is no longer in the workstation business, really - they have the Prism which somewhat fills the niche that the old MIPS-based Onyx4 filled, but it's just an Itanium box running Linux. And now they're phasing out Itanium, too, in favor of Opteron and Core. I can't say I mind Opteron or Core too much, but it's slightly depressing.
I mean, VAX is dead after being around for at least 20 years. HP pulled the plug on Alpha, true - but you could still buy an Alpha workstation from them as recently as 2005. They seem to have pulled the plug on their PA-RISC workstations, too, and the servers aren't far behind. Although HP led the pack in switching to Itanium, they don't sell one single desktop or workstation machine based on it. As far as I can tell, nobody does, other than SGI. So who does that leave? Well, there was Apple, but we all know about the great Intel architecture switch. For better or for worse, they did it. Then there's IBM. They still sell POWER workstations - but not for long. It seems the POWER Intellistation machines are no longer being built and they're just selling old stock now. Out with POWER, in with Xeon or Opteron, just like everyone else. That leaves Sun, and the oddball out there, Castle Technologies with their ARM-based Iyonix. And now Sun throws in the towel. SPARC is still a going concern in serverland, though, as is POWER and even Itanium. With Xeon and Itanium about to converge on the same motherboard architecture, though, Itanium's days may be numbered - it boasts fairly weak performance marks next to Xeon, these days. As for ARM, don't make me laugh. It's the number one architecture in high-powered mobile devices for a reason, but it just doesn't cut the mustard for a desktop system. Not that it couldn't, mind, just that as it stands, it's weaksauce. Wrong tool for the job, really.
So, it's one more step on the road to a one-architecture world. It's pretty obvious that Sun and IBM are fighting to keep their pet architectures relevant, and AMD64 is catching up in all the ways that matter. Somehow, this is a bit depressing to me. It's the homogeneity, the sameness of it all that sucks. On the one hand, I wish the AMD64 architecture didn't have so much legacy cruft dangling off of it, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that this paves the way for a one-OS world too. Used to be, there were some markets where Windows just couldn't penetrate, because the hardware that did what that market needed couldn't run it. Soon, this won't be the case anymore. I can live with having only one architecture, but only one OS is unbearable. Even if that one OS were Linux rather than Windows I'd still be annoyed.
So people, do the computing world a favor. Keep choice alive. Get a Mac. Make a Hackintosh. Run Solaris on your laptop. Check out the cool chrome that Linux can offer. Use OpenBSD for your firewall. Use NetBSD for that in-car entertainment system. Try FreeBSD on for size. And keep an alternate-architecture machine alive. Don't throw out your old PowerBook G4. Fish an SGI Octane out of a university's skip. Teach yourself Unix on a Sun Ultra 80. If you're feeling froggy, revive an old VAX. Get a shell account on a VMS machine. And if you have the scratch for it, get an Iyonix. (Or an old Onyx!)
Lest computer engineers of the future think all the world's an AMD64. And Goddess forfend, that all the world's a Windows Box.
The other thing about this, is the dying of some alternative OSes. With the death of the SGI MIPS machines went IRIX, and with the death of IBM's POWER gear will go AIX. Some may not be sad to see these go, but there it is. Solaris persists, but I have to wonder if Sun opened it because they saw the writing on the wall for the SPARC architecture. And if HP drops Itanium, there goes NonStop, VMS and HP-UX. Although, all of them survived porting once, and VMS did it twice. I suppose VMS is the exception that proves the rule - if something written in VAX assembler can be ported to a RISC architecture without emulation, and then to a hungus of a VLIW arch, I guess you can port most anything...