Unix is alive and in rude good health in the Antipodes, it seems. In better health, in fact, than many of its proponents had imagined. Some 633 true believers paid up to $460 each to attend the recent AUUG 94 conference, the annual get-together of the Australian Unix Users Group, held this year in Melbourne. […]
Unix is alive and in rude good health in the Antipodes, it seems. In better health, in fact, than many of its proponents had imagined. Some 633 true believers paid up to $460 each to attend the recent AUUG 94 conference, the annual get-together of the Australian Unix Users Group, held this year in Melbourne. The numbers were up 25% on the 504 who attended the last Melbourne meeting in 1992, although, as it turned out, precisely the same as registrations for AUUG 93, which was held in Sydney. Local analyst Graeme Philipson, of MIS Research, confirmed the Unix’ good health. Australia is experiencing a massive movement to client-server computing, he told the delegates. An MIS Research survey earlier this year had shown more than 70% of all enterprises taking the client-server path: at least one-third of the market had already adopted client-server; a further 10% planned to move this year; and 18% to 20% within the next 12 months. Only 25% had no current plans to move. MIS has found about 50% of Australian groups already use Unix somewhere in the organisation. The bigger the outfit, the more likely it is to be a major user. Location is also a factor. Canberra and Western Australia lead, with around 60% to 70% penetration; the more populous Victoria and New South Wales drag their feet with around 40%. But the locals had not flocked to hear dry statistics.
Megastar speakers have become a feature of AUUG: last year Clifford Stoll, the US hacker-busting author of The Cuckoo’s Egg was the crowd-puller. This year a bigger cast for the three-day 40-lecture event included AT&T Bell Laboratories guru Dennis Ritchie, billed as the co-father of Unix; privacy watcher Professor Gene Spafford from Purdue University; Bob Glass, SunSoft Inc interface whiz; Silicon Graphics Inc’s chief operating officer Tom Jermoluk; and the Three Tenors of programming – Tom Christiansen, Linus Torvalds and P J Plauger. Howver, a local still got top billing. The opening day’s keynote, titled IT – just another business tool was a case study by Joe Adamski of Barwon Water, which turns out not to be yet another wretched Antipodean soap opera, but the trendy new moniker of the born-again Geelong Sewerage Disposal Authority. Second-batter Dennis Ritchie got the biggest cheers, however, especially when he pulled on his famed propeller-head cap to discuss his latest baby, the Plan 9 system, named after Plan 9 from Outer Space, claimed by some to be the worst science fiction movie of all time. Ritchie, otherwise soberly clad in dark suit and a striped regimental tie that appeared to predate the 1960s origins of Unix, told delegates Plan 9 was an attempt to adapt older Unix system ideas to the world we live in today, including increased CPU speeds, the existence of large networks, distributed computing and bit-map graphics. Unless someone responds to the technical and social changes of the past decade, he implied, Bill Gates and Andy Grove may yet run away with the end-user market. Plan 9 is a macro-kernel operating system that is remarkable for its size in an era of memory-monsters: the kernel text takes but 3Kb and the whole thing fits on a single floppy disk. It has three essential features: everything is a little file system; all communication with files uses a protocol that can be sent over a wire or network; and the file name space can be adjusted to suit a particular application, wherever it resides. This means, says Ritchie, files on other machines can be accessed in the same way as local ones.
By David Frith
It becomes dead simple to attach all the files on a big server to a local machine. Internet connections are a breeze: You can have a program running locally but using devices on the remote machine. File Transfer Protocol directories of Internet machines appear to be local. When will Plan 9 become a commercial product? Not in the immediate future, says Ritchie, though more licensees will apparently be welcome to help work through some ideas. He sees possibilities in use for running desktop boxes and maybe a database back end, but the Be
ll Labs team still sees its role as researcher rather than mass market developer. The propeller keeps turning… Another visionary to draw a big crowd at AUUG 94 was Bob Glass, SunSoft director of human factors engineering, who gave an entertaining look at the interface of the future. Yes, some people may wear their computers woven into their sweaters, he said, drawing on an Alan Kay dream, but most of us will play with interactive multimedia at video conferencing workstations. Glass showed Sun Micro’s vision of the future interface, a video titled Starfire that demonstrated such a system based on intercontinental video conferencing with interactive multimedia tools. Office workers were able to peep into each other’s offices, scan, snatch and manipulate all kinds of documents, and build fantastic business presentations at intergalactic speeds. What about privacy? What about copyright? What about costs? I don’t know, said Glass with an enigmatic shrug. What’s slowing (the interface of the future) is political issues raised by beancounters and lawyers. There are going to have to be changes on the international level, or we just will not make any progress. Maybe the wrong folks are making all the progress. Gene Spafford told the delegates the global bill for computer crime had passed $7,000m a year, while the rapid expansion of network communications was leading to exciting new opportunities for criminals, spies, lunatics and fanatics, as well as the good guys, and law enforcement agencies and governments were beginning to react. One major reaction has been the US Government’s move to force the Clipper chip encryption standard on the US public. Spafford warned that the computer industry would have to strike a proper balance between the free flow of information and the need for privacy. We have charged full steam ahead into the computing age without deciding how society should market these devices, he warned. Now governments and multinationals are getting too worried to let us make those decisions any more. Upstairs in the attached exhibition hall of Melbourne’s World Congress Centre, some 2,800 attendees turned up to look at the latest and hottest on 53 exhibitor’s stands. Merlin, the sexy composite Unix system put together by Fujitsu Ltd, ICL Plc and Pyramid Technology Inc, made its Down Under debut. The ICL GoldRush MegaServer massively parallel system was hooked up to a Pyramid Nile System V.4-based front-end capable of handling 6,000 transactions a second. Precisely what sorcery was being cooked up by this potent combination was not revealed.
No sales have yet been recorded, either, though Fujitsu’s Will Burns hinted it was angling for big fish in the telcommunications, financial and social security sectors. Silicon Graphics gave the first Australian demonstration of its new Indy Presenter flat panel display, claimed to be the first to offer both direct view display and overhead projection facility in a single device. Across the way Sun Microsystems personnel looked cool and dapper in yachting blazers and caps: Sun is to spend $40m on technical aspects of a new Australian bid for the Americas Cup. Australian Internet commercial service provider Connect.com.au was signing up new clients hand over fist, some intrigued by news that Connect.com had signed a co-operative agreement with EUnet aimed at making it easier to provide links for international organisations operating in both Europe and Australia. The prize for best stand went not as expected to Merlin’s spells but to the small locally owned software house Australian Information Processing Centre, which is deeply involved in the Australian Army’s AustACCS tactical command support system to be deployed next year, using Applix Inc’s Applixware. Somehow, AIPC’s energetic founder and chief executive Lorraine Beck had borrowed an Army M77a armoured personnel carrier and manoeuvred it onto the fourth floor of the World Congress Centre. Next year, when AUUG moves to the maritime environment of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the well-connected, Canberra-b
ased Ms Beck promises a Royal Australian Navy frigate, bristling with Applixware. Match that, Merlin.