Hubert Zimmermann, who is regarded in France as the father of the seven layer Open Systems Interconnection model for machine-independent wide area data communications, has doffed his hat as president of the International Standards Organisation Open Systems Interconnection committee to assume that of founder and president of a new company that is dedicated to making […]
Hubert Zimmermann, who is regarded in France as the father of the seven layer Open Systems Interconnection model for machine-independent wide area data communications, has doffed his hat as president of the International Standards Organisation Open Systems Interconnection committee to assume that of founder and president of a new company that is dedicated to making a big impact on the existing Unix market with a new version of the operating system hat eliminates what Zimmermann sees as deficiencies in AT&T’s Unix system, reports 01 Informatique. The French trade weeklrreports that his new company, Chorus Systems SA, brings together researchers from his former interest, the Cyclades project, as well as specialists in user systems.
It was in fact the Cyclades project, working on development of new computer systems at Inria, the French state research and development laboratory, that convinced Zimmermann that something of a revolution was required to achieve a true integration of computing and communications. More effective communications was the original goal of the Chorus project, and Zimmermann has now decided to develop the fruits of that research to the point where it can be offered as a product, also to be called Chorus. A conventional enough step in California, comments 01, but practically unheard of in France. After developing a product to his satisfaction, one that integrated Unix with the full panoply of communications standards, a quick tour of various industrialists and politicians confirmed his belief that the best way forward was for Chorus to go it alone by marketing the product itself, rather than simply hand it over to a major manufacturer. The company was set up at the end of 1986 with the support of France Telecom and Inria, and a business plan that called for the first two years to be spent entirely on refining the product without the need for the company to cover its costs by offering consultancy or service. So what are Chorus’ ambitions now? Quite simply, to expand the Unix market, and by 1993 to have taken a 10% share of the expanded market. What makes Zimmermann so sure that this is possible is his belief that the Chorus product is infinitely less rigid than the present-day Unix, integrating communications right into the kernel so that support for distributed environments and for multiple concurrent processors are its natural element. Is it possible that a third Unix camp could emerge to rival AT&T International and the Open Software Foundat ion? Hubert Zimmer mann, regarded across the Channel as the father of the Open Systems Interconnection standard not only thinks it’s possible but he is so confident of it that he has form ed a company, Chorus Systems to market an eponymous Unix-based product that he claims already includes all the features that the two big Unix clubs are only planning to incor porate into Unix.Chorus, he claims, is extremely modular and evolutionary, so that a wide variety of interfaces and tools can be integrated with it, enabling several dissimilar systems to co-exist with each other – just the things, he believes, that Unix needs today. Controversially, he contends that in terms of technology, AT&T’s Unix System V is a product at the end of its life. To deliver the benefits of what it has achieved – offering a standard interface for software developers and collecting an enormous base of applications – Unix needs to add support for real time working and distributed environments – and that means changing completely the technology behind the interface. That is why, declares Zimmermann, that Sun Microsystems and AT&T announced at the beginning of the year that they planned to bring out a Unix redesigned from the ground up by 1992, and why the Open Software Foundation is promising a real-time fault-tolerant Unix in about the same timescale. But Zimmermann reckons that Chorus is already there. And even when AT&T and its partners, and IBM and its cohorts, have taken their inevitable share of the cake, Zimmermann is still confident that many users will opt for Chorus. These
are all big words for such a small firm (Chorus has a payroll of only 30) which means that no commercial organisation is likely to trust its computing to such a small company. Zimmermann does not see this as a problem for he sees as his first line of attack the major real-time projects that regularly come up in the defence, aerospace and telecommunications arenas.
He sees major European telecommunications companies as a group with considerable economic clout that has yet to declare its hand – not to mention the Japanese telecommunications manufacturers, which have scarcely made their mark on the international marker – leaving AT&T to make all the running. Such companies, he believes are the kind of customer that is confident of its own durability and prepared underwrite any risks attendant on their subcontractors, as happens when for example Thomson SA or Matra SA signs a contract with European Space Agency. If a major telecommunications manufacturer buys in an operating system, part of the purchase involves mastery of the system, so that continued support is assured. Zimmermann reveals that he is in the midst of three major negotiations that are well-advanced and expects to make at least one announcement before autumn, but shys away from naming names – although he mentions names like Westinghouse Electric Corp, Thomson SA, Selenia SpA of Italy and Britain’s Ferranti International Signal Plc to give an ides of the type of company with which he is talking. Let’s just say that we are in contact with a number of groups active in Unix. He admits that Chorus has the stature of a pygmy in the of the giants, but at the right time and the right place he is confident of being able to set of a chain of forces that infinitely surpasses one’s limitations. And as with his former role at the International Standards Organisation and his major involvement in establishing the Open Systems Interconnection standard, he is sure that when he goes out to sell Chorus, at least people are not likely to slam the telephone down on him.