Living with Alpha: Finding Help
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This article appeared first in Windows NT Magazine in February 1998
Reprinted with permission from Windows NT Magazine.
Not long ago, if you wanted to find native applications to run on an Alpha platform, you had to work at it. No books, magazines, or Web sites existed. Now you can easily find more information about Alpha than you can keep up with.
Adding fuel to this explosion of Alpha information is the rapidly growing list of native applications that run on Alpha: The number of Alpha-specific applications jumped from fewer than 2000 in the spring of 1997 to more than 2800 the following autumn. And the first of the new breed of Alpha-only applications are making their debut. Oracle, for example, recently released the Windows NT Very Large Memory (VLM) version of the Oracle database, which can take advantage of the 64-bit addressing capability available only on Alpha. The VLM database gives Alpha users more RAM for an application than an x86 system's entire address space contains.
If you're an Alpha addict, staying up to date with your favorite microprocessor technology and operating system family can be a full-time job. I'm here to help. I'll give you a road map to navigate through the growing maze of information about running NT on Alpha. I'll outline basic information categories, name the most helpful resources, and tell you where to find them (see below, "Alpha NT Resources," lists them). You can then obtain the knowledge you need to integrate NT and Alpha easily and successfully.
On This Page
Underestimating the power of the printed word is not wise, even in this age of instant global electronic gratification powered by the Internet. Various magazines and books address Alpha platforms on an equal basis with legacy x86 platforms, and some publications even focus exclusively on Alpha.
No systems manager or power user should be without Microsoft Windows NT Workstation Resource Kit or Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit. Each book includes a CD-ROM full of tools and utilities for the Alpha platform. Many tools in these resource kits are essential for a well-run shop. My favorite tools include the Remote Command Service (a simplistic, albeit functional, rlogin or Telnet service), ShareUI (a tool for administering network shares through Explorer), and QuickRes (a taskbar tray tool for quickly changing screen resolutions).
The hardcore Alpha programmer can look for the second edition of Alpha AXP Architecture Reference Manual by Richard L. Sites and Richard T. Witek, the engineers who developed the Alpha specifications. This book thoroughly discusses Alpha internals and specifications and presents information on the NT-specific PALcode. The second edition includes technical descriptions for porting NT to Alpha and for other extensions to the Alpha architecture, such as the motion video instructions (MVI).
In December 1997, IDG Books Worldwide published Optimizing Windows NT by Sean K. Daily. The book wasn't available at press time. Sean Daily says that although the book is not Alpha-specific, it discusses Alpha issues and products, and several chapters have a great deal of Alpha-related information. For example, the book includes the section, "Killer Hardware for Windows NT," which covers the Alpha platform and several Alpha-specific technologies, including 64-bit PCI and FX!32. The book also includes a CD-ROM with Alpha versions of various software.
If you're a developer, you'll want to investigate Digital's Association of Software and Application Partners (ASAP) program. The ASAP program fosters contact and interaction between Digital and independent software developers and vendors. The program focuses on development tools and resources for OpenVMS, Digital UNIX, and NT on the Alpha and x86 platforms. The membership fee for the ASAP program is $192 per year in the United States, and benefits include discounts on Digital software and hardware, access to three magazines, admission to members-only sections on ASAP's Web site, and inclusion in the Alpha Applications Catalog and other marketing resources. Even if you don't subscribe to the ASAP program, you'll find useful information on the Web site. It offers a wealth of pointers and documentation on Alpha development.
The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) now offers more Alpha content than it has before. Within the past few months, several key Alpha-native tools, including Visual C++, Visual BASIC, Word, and Excel, have been added to MSDN's Universal Subscription kit (in addition to the server and client tools that have always been available with the NT kit). MSDN focuses on legacy x86 development tools, but its growing number of Alpha kits and frequent Alpha updates are worth the subscription fee.
The richest source of information and resources for the Alpha NT community is available online. Besides the Web sites for the ASAP and MSDN programs, the following sites are the cream of the Alpha crop.
One of the most important Alpha sites on the Internet is also one of the simplest: the Alpha Applications Catalog, which links users to applications that are optimized for the Alpha platform. This catalog, an adjunct of the ASAP program, is a searchable index of more than 2800 applications and NT programs that run natively on the Alpha platform.
Digital's Windows Enterprise Computing Web site contains useful Alpha content and links to other locations of interest to Alpha devotees. On this site, you'll find the latest firmware for Digital systems and motherboards, demos and beta software, white papers and tuning tips, hardware and software references, plus plenty of NT links.
The NT/Alpha Solution Center offers links to a variety of Alpha and NT tools, news, and Web sites. StamiNet, a southwestern US company specializing in industrial strength networking, integration, and systems, produces the NT/Alpha Solution Center.
The AlphaPowered Web site is a good starting point for the Alpha novice: It offers compelling performance comparisons, a list of Alpha clone vendors, and the Alpha Applications Catalog. The performance comparisons are worth a trip to this site.
Digital Semiconductor offers two sites with detailed information about available Alpha microprocessors and motherboards. The Alpha Microprocessor Home site has general product information, including product announcements and links to many other Digital resources. The Documentation Library site offers specifications for Alpha microprocessors and motherboards. If you are interested in the technical details of the Alpha family of microprocessors, both Digital Semiconductor sites are must-see sites.
The Alpha Processor Home site, from Samsung Semiconductor, contains technical details similar to those on Digital Semiconductor's Alpha Microprocessor Home and Documentation Library sites. The Samsung site includes product literature and presentations and a frequently asked questions (FAQs) list. This site addresses OEMs interested in building systems more than it addresses general users, but it offers fascinating reading to users interested in the technical details of Samsung's implementation of Alpha architecture.
When you need to fill native-application gaps with legacy x86 code, make sure you visit the FX!32 Web site from Digital Semiconductor. On the FX!32 Web pages, you'll find the kit to install FX!32, release notes, a forum for sharing information or getting assistance, white papers describing the technology behind FX!32, and a list of applications that work with FX!32.
You can find native Alpha applications on a variety of Internet sources. Microsoft's Windows NT Internet Resources Web site has links to Alpha and x86 NT applications. The weakness of the Windows NT Internet Resources site is that it only occasionally identifies applications that run on the Alpha platform (this site identifies many packages that run on Alpha only as x86-compatible). I prefer the Windows NT Magazine Windows NT Solution Directory Web site. You can use the Advanced Search to search on the Solution Directory for Alpha applications and find associated downloads or additional product information.
My favorite Alpha Web site is, of course, my own. The AlphaNT Source is my attempt to consolidate information relating to NT and the Alpha platform. The AlphaNT Source includes links to industry news about Alpha, lists of hardware and software vendors, Alpha-specific FAQs, miscellaneous Internet links, instructions on joining the AlphaNT Source mailing list, and the file archive—a collection of freeware, shareware, and demoware that runs only on Alpha. This site began as my collection of applications when I was doing consulting work, and it has grown over the years to include all the links I've accumulated relating to Alpha and NT. All of the links I've referenced here, and many more, are on the AlphaNT Source.
Newsgroups. No single newsgroup is dedicated to the Alpha NT topic. Many existing newsgroups, however, cover Alpha issues frequently, including the all-important question, "Should I buy an Alpha?" Some frequently visited newsgroups include comp.sys.dec for Digital Alpha system questions; comp.os.ms-windows.nt.setup.hardware for NT-specific hardware questions; and comp. os.ms-windows.nt.software.compatibility for migration issues. Other newsgroups are still Alpha-applicable, but the types of questions you find in these newsgroups tend to be generic NT questions rather than Alpha-specific topics. You can improve your odds of finding Alpha information in newsgroups by using a search service to pare down the vast array of information in the newsgroups. Alta Vista, for example, lets you search Usenet newsgroups for specific topics and read the results with or without a newsreader.
CompuServe. CompuServe's venerable GO DEC4WNT forum is another online resource with software, information, and conversation about Alpha and NT. This forum was around long before the Internet let just anyone publish information globally, and it's still an anchor for Alpha. Alpha users can use CSi 3.x with FX!32 to find this forum, although earlier versions of WinCIM work, too.
So there you have them—the most helpful sources of information for Alpha users. Although I've described the best print resources I know, the genesis of electronic publishing on the Web and the timing of the introduction of Alpha mean much more information is available online than will probably ever exist in print. The benefit to you is that, except for the cost of your Internet connection, many of these resources are free and as close as your monitor.
Alpha NT Resources
These resources will give you a wealth of information if you run Windows NT on an Alpha platform. You can find most of the online links through the AlphaNT Source, my Alpha-specific Web site.
Alpha AXP Architecture Reference Manual, 2nd edition
Author: Richard L. Sites and Richard T. Witek
Publisher: Digital Press
Microsoft Windows NT Server Resource Kit Version 4.0
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Price: $39.99; 336 pages
Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 Resource Kit
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Price: $69.95; 1408 pages
Optimizing Windows NT
Author: Sean K. Daily
Publisher: IDG Books Worldwide
Foster City, 1997
Price: $49.99; 800 pages
Association of Software and Application Partners (ASAP):
Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN):
Alpha Applications Catalog
Alpha Processor Home
The AlphaNT Source:
Digital Semiconductor Alpha Microprocessors Home:
Digital Semiconductor Documentation Library:
Digital Semiconductor's FX!32:
Digital's Windows Enterprise Computing:
NT/Alpha Solution Center:
Windows NT Internet Resources:
Windows NT Magazine Solutions Directory:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aaron Sakovich is a site administrator for SunGard Trust Systems' Series 7 division. He hosts the AlphaNT Source Web site at http://dutlbcz.lr.tudelft.nl/alphant and founded and cohosts the AlphaNT mail list. Aaron has his Microsoft Certified Professional certificate for Windows NT Workstation. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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