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Editorial:The Myth of the Fall of SGI

Scott Elyard has written an interesting editorial on the Myth of the Fall of SGI. A lot of us have written SGI off as obsolete- and they've made their share of silly blunders in the last 6 mos ( Search Slashdot for SGI to read about some of them). But Scott doesn't think so. Read what he has to say about the future of a company that a lot of us have forgotten about.

The following is an editorial by Slashdot Reader Scott Elyard

The Myth of the Fall of SGI

Silicon Graphics (SGI) machines have been on my desktop for more than two years now, but I was in love with the platform for many years before that, when I was demoed the power of the Onyx Reality Engine^2 at the Advanced Visualization Lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1994. Back then, I was just starting to get into 3D graphics.

My background is basically writing and art, and I have spent a lot of time studying the history of special effects. This is basically my bias: I love the company, and their product. I am not a UNIX guru, and most of my computing experience is logged on MacOS machines, and this continues to be true, if only because a 7-lb. PowerBook is lighter (and more portable) than an SGI Indy with an LCD display panel. I am not as technical as most people, and although more technical than most in my profession, I remain first and foremost an artist uninterested in technology for it's own sake.

This article intends to address the Myth of SGI's fall; some have argued that SGI isn't a cool company, that they don't produce cool products anymore... which is hard to argue against because "cool" is difficult to quantify. I think it's cool that I don't have to learn an overwhelming amount of UNIX to be productive on an SGI. I think the 3D responsiveness is absolutely fundamental to what I do, and naturally, I think that's cool. I think that of all the UNIX vendors that advertise their graphics support, SGI is legitimately worth every penny, and I think that's cool too.

The SGI in the Media Myths page provides some good points and counterpoints to a lot of the hype deployed against SGI.

Despite this, I admit to possessing reservations about SGI's migration to Merced. Actually, it's not all that different from Apple's migration from the 68000-series CPUs to the PowerPC more than four years ago. I wonder why a company would commit to a processor technology that isn't due to be availble until mid-2000, when there are 64-bit alternative processors available now, and in the case of the PowerPC, nearly ready

But then, a lot can happen in a mere 2 years' time in the computer industry. SGI might change their minds. Or Merced might be better than we all think.

An SGI running Windows NT, however, is another matter. I'd never use it. That doesn't make it a bad idea for SGI to produce an NT workstation with O2-class graphics (or better) for people, who, say, want to run LightWave 3D on something with better OpenGL accelleration than an Intergraph machine will give you (and as a user of this extraordinary application, I'd like to confirm that the rumors of horrible UNIX support Newtek has for their products are true; I continue to use it as a sort of love the sinner--hate the sin sort of thing).

Some have suggested that this somehow spells doom for SGI as a company, and I don't really see it. Most of SGI's revenue comes from CAD/MCAD markets, a market into which Windows NT has made significant inroads. How does it not make business sense for the premiere graphics hardware company to address this market more fully?

Since SGI is hardly abandoning their version of UNIX (IRIX, wherein lies 100% of their exisitng user base), the implication appears to be that once a company starts selling systems with Windows NT installed, so starts a downward spiral into bankruptcy. Something often omitted from this picture is Digital, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and any other company that sells Windows NT-based systems that have yet to file for Chapter 11 since doing so.

And, despite the slowing in growth of the company itself, SGI's survival is hardly at stake. Apple has been through far worse and survived with less than half the loyalty I'd expect from an SGI customer. I often wonder about the media's apparent need to spell doom in large letters across every headline; it makes for great copy, but it's poor journalism. Let's not forget SGI's merger with Cray Research, or OpenGL, or MIPS or WebTV or the Sony Playstation or the Nintendo 64 (the latter three use MIPS processors) to say nothing of an amazing desktop and deskside/rack-based product line. With these sorts of assets at hand, is this really a symptom of a struggling company? While it might be debatable as to how many times and how often SGI has dropped the ball in business and technical matters, there's simply no basis for assuming the company is going to die.

I am not afilliated with SGI except as a customer. If you go to my website you will not find the gamut of rotating logos, Powered by SGI, Made with MacOS, or what have you, because I've never believed such things have any place in my company's literature. Whenever I am asked, however, I endorse the SGI as a solution for working in 3D, because it works better than anything else I've tried.

No, it's not free. But some of the best things never are, and it's so seldom you seen anything in the computer industry that's actually worth the asking price.

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Editorial:The Myth of the Fall of SGI

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"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva