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-- by Cynthia Morgan and Joseph C. Panettieri
Digital's Alpha microprocessor just can't catch a break. Just as new, sub-$3,000 NT/Alpha workstations are hitting the market, Digital's niche chip has suffered another setback: Autodesk says it will no longer develop its popular AutoCAD product for NT on Alpha.
Autodesk's decision is particularly disturbing because many Alpha workstations are positioned specifically for CAD/CAM applications. However, the latest AutoCAD version, Release 14, supports only 32-bit Wintel (Windows on Intel) platforms. "We have no plans to support Alpha or compatible platforms at this time," says an Autodesk spokesperson. "Sales for the Alpha version just didn't warrant further development." Autodesk says it will continue supporting Alpha, UNIX and Windows 3.x users who are currently running AutoCAD Release 13.
Tim Miller, an Alpha marketing manager at Digital, concedes that Autodesk's decision to abandon Alpha development is a "bit of a disappointment." However, he insists that there are 2,500 native NT/Alpha applications, and the figure is growing. NT/Alpha versions of Microsoft Word 97 and Excel 97 are expected to be introduced shortly, and FX!32 (Digital's Intel-to-Alpha translation software) is being upgraded to support Office 97.
Furthering the Alpha effort, Digital and several of its partners have introduced new NT/Alpha desktop systems that start at less than $3,000. But analysts say it's unclear whether the new systems will stimulate Alpha sales, which are growing at a much slower clip than the overall NT market. Industry insiders say Digital sold only about 240,000 Alpha systems last year, a figure that certainly didn't impress Autodesk.