Nodding again towards what it now believes is the inevitability of a Unix world populated by mixed Unix and Windows desktop environments, plus the growing demand for access to Internet services, IXI Ltd last week rolled out the next generation of its desktop technology as Eye2eye. The software comes with an integrated Mosaic Internet viewer […]
Nodding again towards what it now believes is the inevitability of a Unix world populated by mixed Unix and Windows desktop environments, plus the growing demand for access to Internet services, IXI Ltd last week rolled out the next generation of its desktop technology as Eye2eye. The software comes with an integrated Mosaic Internet viewer and, when accessed from a personal computer through a local PC-X server, gives Unix applications and utilities the appearance and behaviour of Microsoft Corp’s Windows. Cambridge, UK-based IXI already offers a way of giving Motif-based Unix applications a Windows look and feel via its Wintif technology. Although Wintif run-times are included in Eye2eye, the new software also incorporates a new IXI technology called Intelligent Agent Extension, an MS-DOS program that provides the ability to cut text and graphics from Unix software and drop it into Windows applications via the automatic conversion of Motif and Windows clipboard formats. Some work is done on the personal computer, but IXI regards Intelligent Agent Extension as a kind of gopher that sends code to and from the server, from where most of the work is done. As well as file conversion, the first Intelligent Agent Extension iteration supports colour changes and the ability to read or write personal computer files to accommodate those and other changes.
It enables objects pulled out of the Mosaic viewer to be put onto the Windows desktop or into an application, and Unix software on the server to be modified from the Windows control panel. Intelligent Agent Extension works over local PC-X servers and has been integrated with Hummingbird and Visionware implementations so far, with others to follow. The integrated IXI Mosaic viewer is a version of the University of Illinois code its Santa Cruz Operation Inc parent recently licensed for the Everest programme, enhanced for both the Unix and personal computer versions of Eye2eye. Net information, incluiding Universal Resource Locators, can be stored as desktop objects in both environments and the software will view the contents of any desktop object dropped into it. Additional IXI application programming interfaces allow the viewer to be controlled by other applications. IXI has built Eye2eye on top of release 4.0 of its X.desktop file and object manager engine which has sets of Motif-Common Desktop Environment and Windows-style objects. Other bundled stuff includes a Mulitpart Internet Mail Extension MIME-based message system, IXI text and graphics editors, extensions to support its Panorama virtual workspace and on-line documentation stored as World Wide Web pages. IXI deems Eye2eye the most important component yet of its ‘Windows Friendly’ strategy, but it is still shy of selling software that actually loads onto personal computers. It claims its customers asked specifically that it not give them yet more floppies to load. This means Eye2eye should be able to evolve quickly without the need to get every upgrade out on personal computer disks. Eye2eye is downloaded from a Unix server to Unix and Windows desktop clients. In fact, Eye2eye could quite easily be used to send executable code down to personal computers from Unix servers as the Intelligent Agent Extension also includes an unmentioned distributor object.
By William Fellows
It could send stuff like a virus checker to the personal computer, but IXI is adamant that it is not in that market, and has no interest in conflicting with anything the Desktop Management Task Force is doing. The software runs atop Common Desktop Environment implementations, as upgrades to X.desktop or as new X.desktop installations at X Window-only Unix sites. Eye2eye is $600 from November on Santa Cruz Operation Inc and Sun Microsystems Inc servers, with IBM Corp, Digital Equipment Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co and Silicon Graphics Inc versions to follow. The price includes two client licences – run-times are $250 and $150 for each additional Unix and Windows client respectively. Existing X.desktop users can upgrade. IXI estimates there a
re between 4m and 5m personal computers on Unix networks. It says between 30% to 40% of Eye2eye is enhanced X.desktop, 10% is Mosaic, 10% is Wintif and the rest is Common Desktop Environment and Santa Cruz Operation technology. There will be a further Eye2eye releases to support Windows95, greater Object Linking & Embedding and OLE 2 conversion functionality, Intelligent Agent Extension 2, low bandwidth X, Messaging Application Programming Interface and LAN Manager. For Unix, it will add Common Desktop Environment compatibility and X/Open compliance. Much will be posted to customers over Internet, the company anticipates. Eye2eye is the most fundamental change in IXI’s product strategy to date because it moves the company’s core business beyond the realm of the Unix desktop manager for the first time and into a nether world which straddles Unix and Microsoft. Although it is not a world IXI chief Ray Anderson particularly wanted to be in – meaning that if the desktop had evolved into a predominantly Unix kingdom then that would have been fine – he believes every user will end up with some kind of Windows strategy. That world, seemingly premeditated eons ago by users installing waves of Windows desktops across their organisations, has already been embodied in such places as X/Open Co Ltd’s Desktop Requirements group, which recognises the inevitability of Windows as the dominant desktop in organisations that also either have or forsee open systems as central to their strategic, long-term core data processing requirements. IXI built X.desktop and with it won the battle to put an easy-to-use desktop interface on top of the Motif X Window management system. But X.desktop as a bundled product has had its day in the Unix world. IXI will continue to support its 260,000-odd X.desktop users with subsequent iterations but when planning for Eye2eye began two years ago, IXI recognised the inevitability of its traditional market evaporating into Windows and being superseded by the tens of millions of dollars being pumped into a common Unix front-end initiative called the Common Desktop Environment. Although it has always been in and around the Common Desktop Environment effort, in part because of the participation of its parent Santa Cruz Operation, neither IXI nor Santa Cruz Operation plan to offer their own Common Desktop Environment implementation(s).
IXI will work with one of the Common Desktop Environment independent software vendors, not necessarily TriTeal Corp, to bring Common Desktop Environment compliance to X.desktop and Eye2eye, but it must convince its existing X.desktop customers, such as IBM Corp AIX 3.2.5 desktop users, to move up to Eye2eye rather than on to a Common Desktop Environment implementation like the one TriTeal and IBM will be offering to AIX 3.2.5 users. Eye2eye and the rest of the ‘Windows Friendly’ strategy is inflicting a change of culture on the IXI Ltd organisation itself, which was founded with the express purpose of making Unix desktops easy to use. As well as hiring Windows expertise, the company has apparently even lost an engineer or two that did not want anything to to with Windows. More than that however, it is found that doing Unix and Windows development is very hard and it would have been happier had it been able to remain a Unix-only independent software vendor. Up to a year and a half a ago, IXI says, when it was going into customers sites with the likes of IBM and Sun, it and the vendors were still imploring people not to install desktop Windows clients. It was not until organisations started saying they could not prevent the Windows wave and demanded vendors do something that Unix-Windows integration strategies were really considered, although many of the vendors still have not made that ideological shift.