The low profile licence agreement struck by IBM Corp with Digital Equipment Corp last week involving a real-time microkernel for embedded systems (CI No 2,530) could be the ‘smoking gun’ behind a much wider effort to rally some of the original Open Software Foundation crew around a common microkernel strategy. DEC has not licensed IBM […]
The low profile licence agreement struck by IBM Corp with Digital Equipment Corp last week involving a real-time microkernel for embedded systems (CI No 2,530) could be the ‘smoking gun’ behind a much wider effort to rally some of the original Open Software Foundation crew around a common microkernel strategy. DEC has not licensed IBM Corp’s Mach 3.0 microkernel implementation merely to get itself a new real-time embedded operating system as some of its people would have us believe; it is also looking at using the thing to deploy OSF/1 and OpenVMS and future operating systems, as personalities on the microkernel, IBM-fashion. The Auld Enemy will not say how far it has got putting AIX, OS/2, OS/400, MVS and other personalities on top of Workplace and DEC says anything it is doing in that regard is a long way out. But the two do plan to co-operate on desktop and other next-generation offerings. Insiders say their microkernel accord could ultimately mean that a computer from either company would be able to act as a server to the other in heterogeneous environments, with software being transferrable across the two environments no matter what personality is running on top. DEC has paid IBM an undisclosed amnount for its Mach 3 licence and will exchange technology, expertise and engineers with IBM. That is just the tip of the iceberg, because the two say they are already working with other Mach houses, including the Open Software Foundation Research Institute, whose latest OSF/1 system software is Mach 3-based, to drum up a set of common Mach interfaces that developers can work with – kind of a cousin to the Unix Spec 1170 initiative. They will certainly have fewer application programming interfaces to harmonise given that little Mach code is on the street. Taligent Inc, also an IBM Mach 3 licensee, looks likely to join the party; other possible joiners include Convex Computer Corp, whose Software Foundation Mach implementation also runs HP-UX binaries, and IBM bedfellow Hitachi Ltd. Already shunned Taigent A less likely nominee is Mach house NeXT Computer Inc, whose horse is now roped into the Sun Microsystems Inc stable. Hewlett-Packard Co told us in no uncertain terms that it is definitely not involved in any such microkernel effort. Indeed it has already shunned the Taligent operating system and sources say its experience with the microkernel technology to which it has been exposed has not been useful. IBM admits that it might not be possible to round up all of the Mach players for the effort and that some may prefer to go down their own paths. Although DEC’s venture with IBM looks like bad news for SunSoft Inc, which has been trying to get its feet under the Maynard table, it certainly makes sense of Robert Palmer’s UniForum call for vendors to stop duplicating kernel efforts to save money. Initially DEC and IBM are building next-generation, Mach 3-based distributed real-time operating systems for Alpha, iAPX-86 and PowerPC. Where that leaves DEC’s existing real-time, Mach 2.5-based OSF/1 implementation is unclear; the company says the two are complementary. The Mach microkernel was developed at Carnegie Mellon University and licensed to among others, the Open Software Foundation. It in turn handed a version over to IBM which brought its implementation up to Mach 3 and is adding commercial enhancements. Most of IBM’s microkernel work is being done at the Personal Software Products Division – other units are involved for their respective operating system personalities. With Carnegie Mellon’s project over, Mach development now lies with the ability of its supporters to create successful products and to pay for a future development strategy.