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ACE Standards

I probably can’t sue for the use of my initials, and a group like the Advanced Computer Environment probably wouldn’t notice anyway (besides, then I’d have to consort with lawyers :-)). The ACE group is composed of some of the major players in the computing industry, companies including Compaq, DEC, Microsoft, MIPS, the Santa Cruz Operation, and soon, some Pacific Rim clone makers. The idea behind the consortium is to set a standard for RISC-based computing using chips from MIPS, systems from Compaq and DEC, OS/2 3.0 from Microsoft, a version of Unix from SCO, and cheap clones from the usual people who make cheap clones. Also included is Silicon Graphics, whose 3-D graphics technologies will show up somewhere in there as well. Don’t expect products until sometime in 1993, since the MIPS R4000 chip won’t appear until late this year and OS/2 3.0 may come well after that.

The announcement of the group’s formation came several weeks ago, but I’ve been holding off because it’s a strange and interesting event that I wanted to ponder for a while. I think I’ve finally grasped some of what might be happening, and I’m less impressed than I was initially. Originally, it sounded pretty good. Lots of reputable companies banding together to set a standard that would carry computing through the 90’s. However, looking more closely, the list of companies that have not joined ACE is impressive as well. Companies such as IBM, Apple, HP, Lotus, Adobe, Pixar, Sun, Novell, AT&T, NCR, Intel, and Motorola all have either declined to join or are waiting to see what happens. IBM, Apple, HP, and Sun all have competing lines of hardware that they would not want to give up, and that hardware is primarily based on Intel and Motorola chips.

So let’s look at what the companies in ACE have to gain. Compaq can break out of the clone maker role and avoid companies like Dell which are out-cloning Compaq. MIPS gets a market for its chips, which aren’t used in the major workstations as far as I know. Microsoft gets a foot into a new environment as usual, and has promised that OS/2 3.0 will run applications written for DOS, Windows, and earlier versions of OS/2 no matter which hardware platform it runs on. That’s a tall order, but is certainly possible. DEC can compete with workstations from IBM and HP, something which it hasn’t done all that well with in the past. Silicon Graphics wants its graphics technology to become a standard, and SCO wants its version of Unix to do the same.

Looking at the group in that light, the announcement seems like a preemptive strike (a Microsoft specialty) to prevent users from buying SPARCstations and R/6000 workstations from IBM. A single set of standards is the obvious advantage of such a group, though it’s unclear if the members of the group have enough market clout to overthrow SPARC and IBM’s RISC machines, not to mention the increasingly powerful Macs and PC-clones based on the 680×0 and 80×86 chips from Motorola and Intel. We also shouldn’t ignore NeXT in all of this, if only because it has a significant head start on any ACE workstation that Compaq might be working on. I’m not betting on ACE taking over the computer industry any time in the near future, if at all, since it seems to be mostly an attempt for the second-place companies to modify the rules in mid-race.

Also keep in mind that much of ACE depends on Microsoft and OS/2 3.0, which might have a few more troubles now that the Federal Trade Commission is expanding the scope of its antitrust probe. IBM may hurt Microsoft somewhat as well by pushing OS/2 2.0 in favor of Windows 3.0 via lower prices and lots of marketing money.

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 06-May-91, Vol. 8, #18, pg. 1
PC WEEK — 15-Apr-91, Vol. 8, #15, pg. 1, 10
PC WEEK — 08-Apr-91, Vol. 8, #14, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 06-May-91, Vol. 13, #18, pg. 8, 33
InfoWorld — 22-Apr-91, Vol. 13, #16, pg. 1, 29
InfoWorld — 15-Apr-91, Vol. 13, #15, pg. 1, 5
InfoWorld — 08-Apr-91, Vol. 13, #14, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 25-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #12, pg. 1
COMMUNICATION WEEK — 15-Apr-91, pg. 8
MacWEEK — 02-Apr-91, Vol. 5, #13, pg. 6

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