Why did the Intel Itanium microprocessors fail?

I really hate Quora making me join and follow 10 things I don’t care about just to answer this question. What a truly pathetic business model!

Intel Itanium image

You are probably too young to know the entire story. It’s one of bribes, misinformation, and corporate espionage on a scale that makes China look small time today. This is the story as I remember it after having lived through it.

The story starts with the Alpha processor and Digital Equipment Corporation. Microsoft had been bribing everyone they could find trying to kill off VMS because because their platform could not compete. This extended to outright buying of writers at PC Magazine, one of which wrote a “comparison” of graphics libraries to the graphics libraries provided by Microsoft. The following month that same writer released a book covering the either unreleased or just released graphics library from Microsoft. I will leave it to your imagination who won the “comparison.” You could also just wade through the massive number of pages of discovery information generated during the Janet Reno investigation.

Microsoft started a well funded marketing fraud campaign claiming “proprietary bad, open good.” They got the Gartner Group (known for selling whatever they are paid to sell no matter what crime is behind it) to declare Microsoft (the most proprietary operating system in the world at the time) an “Open System” and the fraud used to justify this was that it could run on both Intel and AMD processors. They did not extend the same courtesy to IBM’s MVS which could run on both IBM and AMDAHL hardware.

VMS on Alpha and VAX was everywhere. It had found its way into almost every significant machine room in America and many around the world. In a post-Internet world you cannot begin to understand just how big a selling point DECnet was. It could talk to most everything despite all of the proprietary networking protocols in use.

Microsoft wanted its completely insecure viciously bug riddled OS in that machine room.

The fraud and campaign contributions targeted those controlling military and intelligence spending. It involved dark whispers “that chip is only single sourced” Thus began the new round of criminal fraud aimed at taking out DEC and most importantly VMS. They totally glossed over the fact AMD was in Germany so x86 processors would be single sourced during war time. They also overlooked the fact a billion dollars is tip money to the DOD.

After much wrangling with elected officials Intel got what it really wanted. To be the second source fabrication company for Alpha processors. You see Intel and HP had spent a decade trying to develop a new 64-bit processor from scratch. Nobody really knows the exact dollar amount, but it is huge. Everyone in IT called Intel a one trick pony. They hit on dumb luck making the x86. After years of telling the world a 64-bit version could not be created AMD released one. (That’s why you see Linux distros listed as 64-bit AMD and not just 64-bit. Intel had to use the AMD instructions and play catch up.)

HP considered itself an engineering company and it had made some of the best test equipment every manufactured during the 1980s and early 1990s. Neither they nor Intel had any concept of how to design a new processor from scratch. Stories say Intel kept trying to slip in x86 stuff and HP wanted something which was actually good. (Research SEGMENT:OFFSET addressing for a hint there.)

Now, in another part of the fab plant, they were making Alpha, the best 64-bit processor on the market. Improvements to be made over the next 5 years had already been written and were churning through the development process at DEC. Everybody involved said it would be around 10 years before they would be scrounging for speed and processing improvements or need a new technical wave.

Very secretly lots of the Alpha internals started walking out the fab plant door and into the HP-Intel chip. Some say it was basically a new generation of Alpha that Intel and HP were about to unveil. Reality is they got caught red handed.

DEC was in a bit of financial trouble at the time. G. Q. Bob was an incredibly poor choice for restructuring. He had the cookie cutter MBA mentality of “restructuring.”

Sell off enough of the crown jewels until someone offers to buy what is left of the company.

You can follow the link if you want to read just thumbnails. Basically, many/most believed DEC had Intel so tightly by the short hairs that they would win the entire company in court. Yeah, it was blatant. Did G.Q. Bob do the right thing? No. He cut a deal. The HP/Intel chip could not return execution results in R0 (Register zero) and a host of other changes leaving behind an incompatible and neutered chip. He also sold chip manufacturing to Intel.

MBA view of restructuring, cut all of the $80K and under workers who generate revenue, keep all of management who generate nothing and get paid well north of $100K. Management will save itself at all costs.

Intel and Microsoft had another debtor they could squeeze, Compaq. After the 1997 “deal” moving chip fabrication to Intel, dirty deeds and back room deals got Compaq to buy DEC. The goal was to quickly shut down DEC and put Compaq servers using Intel chips and Microsoft operating systems in every machine room. That’s when Microsoft and Compaq got a hard lesson from the Intelligence community about shutting down a strategic supplier widely used in both intelligence and defense.

Early Itanium chips started being seen in 2001 with full production in 2002. HP tried to force HP-UX customers onto Itanium and they chose to leave HP for another *nix based platform rather than endure the processor. Stories were abundant about early models turning into crispy critters if you tried to run them at their rated clock speed, filling computer rooms with the scent of Itanium Cologne.

Neither Intel nor HP were willing to admit the chip was a total failure. In 2002 HP bought Compaq and almost immediately put a thumb in the eye of the defense industry. They announced they would cease design, sale, and manufacture of Alpha based DEC computers. All users had to use the Itanium based machines they were going to produce and OpenVMS engineering was going to port VMS to the Itanium. Huge outcry came from the VMS community, some of which was still on VAX hardware which also was not going to be maintained or supported anymore. Used Alpha based machines spiked in value. Reports surfaced on just how many years worth of chip improvements were left in the pipeline and on the drawing boards further stoking hatred.

VMS was basically the only OS using Itanium and that was because they had no choice. RHEL stopped supporting the chip in 2007. Debian 7 was the last Debian release to officially support Itanium. Microsoft continued its efforts to get VMS removed from every data center in the world, getting help from HP who ceased development and got rid of OpenVMS Engineering.

The Itanium was over a decade late to the 64-bit party. Big computers didn’t need yet another 64-bit processor. They really needed 128 or 256-bit processors to make the pain of a port worthwhile. Had the Itanium been allowed to be the next generation Alpha it would have been a great chip requiring no port. DEC had unqualified management and Microsoft continued to be Darth Vader incarnate.

In July of 2021, the Itanium will quietly be taken out to the woods and shot. HP and Intel will refused to publicly admit they failed spectacularly. A group of former OpenVMS Engineering team members formed VSI (VMS Software Inc.) and are porting OpenVMS to the 64-bit x86. VMS was famous for “Up-times measured in decades” but that pretty much ceased with Itanium. It cannot even be dreamed about with x86.


The Current eBay Scam

On 4-15-2018 I received the following email:

email image

This was for a Guest order placed on 4-05-2018.

I don’t run a virus known as Windows, but, being the only member of the family to ever go to college for computers, I get drafted by family members who “just bought what was pre-packaged and on-sale.” Of course DELL doesn’t ship installation media with their pre-packaged shit and when you order it, years later from customer service, you get whatever the last bundle was, not what was actually on the pre-packaged bundle-o-shit you bought.

Naturally, when I re-installed my Aunt’s computer from the “just like the day you bought it” installation media DELL sold her (because even if you only use it for Solitaire, Windows becomes corrupted) it didn’t have all of the bundled software she originally had.

This lead me to making a Guest purchase on eBay because I won’t allow eBay to sell my personal information and Amazon is a malignant tumor which will one day end the human race.

eBay is desperate to invade your privacy. They want to sell your information just like Google and Facebook. At least they do until they watch both Google and Facebook go down later this year. Our Congress and media outlets can be easily purchased, just look at what the Clinton’s have done with their criminal enterprise, the E.U., not so much. They are the only ones to make any significant effort to reign in the criminal enterprises of Microsoft and Google. That whole Janet Reno thing was a crime against the human race.

You may notice that the “Leave feedback” link looks like it has been clicked. Well, it has. Ten days to ship an order is completely inexcusable. Guess what? The only thing you can do as a Guest is make a purchase. You cannot leave feedback, contact a seller, or return an item. Unless you let eBay completely invade your privacy, you are an unperson.

Expires Faster Than Milk

It’s amazing how quickly things become useless and outdated on the Internet. What is worse is people usually choose one of the first five search results and consider it Gospel no matter how horribly out of date it is. Recently I got a bit nostalgic for some of the DOS work I used to do. Greenleaf libraries were a mainstay in my development tool chest no matter what compiler I was using.

There CommLib product was awesome. Data Windows provided a rather great ASCII graphics mouse enabled user interface. The Greenleaf Database library was also quite a treasure. I never owned a copy of their Functions or Super Functions products. Part of me wonders if that isn’t what morphed into the Boost library or at least the inspiration behind it.

Kids today don’t understand. They come to C/C++ with quite an arsenal of string, date, and time functions. It wasn’t always so. In the early days we were all rolling our own. Part of it was ego, but the major part was compiler vendors didn’t provide much in the way of support and there was no standard. You also aren’t old enough to remember when Janet Reno, with Hillary Clinton whispering in her ear, committed a crime against the human species not putting Bill Gates in prison AND allowing Microsoft to trademark Windows in the software world DESPITE numerous DOS based windowing libraries predating the Microsoft claim.

The result of this was Microsoft’s lawyers sending threatening letters to each and every software vendor with “Window” or “Windows” in their product name even when that product existed years before Microsoft shipped Windows. Most of these companies were small so the threat of an 800-pound gorilla was enough to get them to pull the product. I don’t know of one which renamed their product and kept going. I don’t believe this round of Microsoft criminal activity allowed for that option.

These threats went deep. Like Jihadists trying to purge all historical artifacts which disprove their claim, the legal threats and historical destruction ran amuck with the blessings of both the Clinton’s and Janet reno.

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I clicked on some of those Dr. Dobb links and they don’t work anymore. The Dr. Dobb’s site still exists and is being archived for posterity, but those links don’t work. It appears that only Google’s blatant for profit copyright infringement has thus far escaped the purge of the Microsoft lawyers.

boosk links

I clicked on some of those books.google.com links and they worked. That EDM2 link worked as well. There they flag all GreenLeaf products as “discontinued.” That’s been both true and false over the years. Greenleaf folded up, for a few years, then, some other shop began selling at least the database library and perhaps a few others. Then I lost track of it.

Part of this mental journey came from wondering if any of the Functions or Super Functions would still serve a purpose today as well as very fond memories of CommLib, having exchanged many emails with Mark, Ruby and I believe someone named Billy back in the day. Putting it mildly, I was probably viewed as a support nightmare. I was replacing burnt EPROM embedded systems with cast-off PCs running DOS so I was pushing the libraries. I was also using the much stricter Watcom and they were using the rather lax Borland.

While, technically, CommLib is “discontinued,” I happily found Mark Nelson’s “Dr. Dobb’s” article about “Any Serial Port.” At some point I know I’m going to find myself on an embedded Linux project which isn’t using Qt and I will be more than willing to take a serious look at what the project has to offer.

If submitting stuff to the Qt project wasn’t such a royal pain in the ass, I might even be willing to hack the QSerialPort class to give it the features everyone needs. Features CommLib had back in the days of DOS. A double ring buffer which understands the concept of a record, be it a fixed length record, or one bounded by begin and end characters. Doesn’t matter if you are reading from a truck scale or some other source, everyone needs that.

Hey, while I’m on the topic, I certainly hope vendors of truck scales have finally stopped several bad practices. CommLib, at the time, didn’t recognize multiple character begin and end markers. Scale vendors would do one of two thing:

  1. Put the CRC byte in front of the ending byte without restricting the range of CRC values so it could have the same value as the ending marker.
  2. Put the CRC byte after the ending marker so your “record” logic couldn’t retrieve everything it needed to process the read without doing an extra one-byte read.

For those of you who don’t think it is a problem, try, within the limits of 16-bit DOS, the configuration information for 7 different scale brands, each one of which uses a different packet format, baud and frequency rate. Any one of these scales can be on any port.

Damn! I was a geek back then.

I do hope the Greenleaf crew has prospered in their lives after Greenleaf. I have fond memories of all the misspent hours in front of my AST Premium 286 putting their products to work.

Information, like youth, really does expire faster than milk.


Question From a Reader

The following question came in from a reader who happened to catch one of my posts on a programming email list.


As usual, I quite enjoy your detailed analysis coupled with historical contexts, since I learned my trade through those days (Sun SPARC workstations, VAX minicomputers running VMS, etc.).  They are always entertaining, usually edifying, and sometimes nostalgic for me.  :)

I’m curious, though, about one particular point you made:

Windows isn’t even going to be Windows 2 years from now. It is going to be a Microsoft front end on top of what used to be Ubuntu Linux. They’ve already started the process with Windows 10.

Is this just prescience on your part, or is this based on some published road map from Microsoft?  I abhor Windows 10 along with the direction the operating system has taken, but if they are planning to truly run on a UN*X-based foundation, as Apple decided to do with OS X, then there might be some interesting times ahead that would keep me from jumping fully to Linux and sandboxing Windows into a VM.


Well dear reader,

Lots of little things published by Microsoft and Windows 10 itself __AND__ the fact OpenSource projects don’t get sued over data breaches.

Microsoft has publicly stated it is creating DOT-NOT Anywhere (don’t remember the exact name) as well as C# anywhere in an attempt to make their obsolete sh*t usable on the current desktop. Windows 10 is the first step (integration) at putting a Windows looking desktop on top of Linux.

You may recall Microsoft paid Novell lots of money to create the first draft of this many years ago. It was called Mono and it yielded one OpenSource product, Evolution. While Evolution was pretty good early on, it was soooooo tied to the Gnome desktop it never got a real following.

Keep in mind Windows started out as a task switching GUI on top of DOS which was criminally marketed and sold as “Windows Operating System.” You typed “win” at the C: prompt and when you exited Windows you were right back to the C: prompt.

While Windows NT, when it was on the Alpha, really was an actual OS because Cutler based it on an improved VMS, the tiny minds at Microsoft could not understand logikals, RMS, file versionning, passing via descriptor and the host of other improvements (I was actually doing a project at DEC when the Alpha was being built) so, the Microsoft weenies stripped it back to DOS. While they keep adamantly telling those too lazy to look that Windows 7, 8, 10 (what happened to 9?) “are completely different from DOS” few who ever worked at that level believed them because the bootstrap was pretty much the same. Different file names, but not really that different of code.

Somewhere on-line you can pull down a free copy of MSDOS if you feel like doing some hardware debugging. At some point many years ago MS released a version of DOS for download to kill the OpenDOS, FreeDOS and half a dozen other DOS projects which were gaining steam. Each project was having trouble with one of the Microsoft memory managers needed to run Windows 3.x cleanly. I forget their names. One got loaded in CONFIG.SYS and the other in AUTOEXEC.BAT. I just did a quick search and stumbled onto this discussion where everyone claims until they are blue in the face that such a release never happened, but I distinctly remember reading that very thing on more than one DOS project Web site. Pretty much when all forward effort stopped on most projects. FreeDOS suddenly seems to be quite active again though.

Ah yes, and there is this “MSDOS 7.1” from some group in China, but I digress.

For more than two decades now when you dropped to the command line you dropped to DOS. They kept telling everyone it was running in a VM and not letting you out to the base OS, but, dropping to a VM does not prove it is not still the base OS. Even when 98 and 2000 were released MS was telling the public they weren’t DOS booted, but now the “official” word seems to be:

MS-DOS 6.22 (1994, last standalone version)
MS-DOS 7.0   (1995, Windows 95A)
MS-DOS 7.10 (1996, Windows 95 OSR 2, Windows 95 OSR 2.5, Windows 98, and Windows 98 SE)
MS-DOS 8.0   (2000, Windows Me)

Ah yes, PowerShell has had some pretty massive security breaches as well.

Why? Because Microsoft never could create business class software they just did a __lot__ of marketing to dupe people into buying it and, more importantly, duped people into reporting far more sales than actually occurred.

Officials from Equifax are going to spend the next month, if not longer, being hauled in front of Congress. Beating up executives from corporations which cause massive consumer identity theft is about the only Bipartisan thing to occur in Washington. You may remember Bill Gates got this same pleasure when Janet Reno was screwing the human race not putting him in prison at the behest of the Clintons? Well, guess who is going to be behind yet another breach at some point? Some company will be using Microsoft Windows on a server which gets breached without a pre-existing patch from Microsoft and they too will get a return trip before Congress. If it is a wide enough breach they will also get to appear before the EU and get yet another round of sanctions along with the peepee whacking.

The ONLY way to sidestep this is to make the kernel and terminal all OpenSource Linux projects. “The Community” won’t be prosecuted because they are volunteer. This means all of the networking and other security are completely out of Microsoft’s hands. This also means that the beyond wretched “Windows Registry,” a source of countless attacks as well as system stability issues, goes away. Whatever Linux uses to keep track of things is what Windows will use now.

In order to make Windows more stable and secure, Microsoft has to abandon Windows.

So yes, to answer your question, within two years Windows will be just like OSX. A task switching GUI layered on top of an actual operating system. Windows 3.1 is back in vogue.