While the industry heavyweights in the Open Software Foundation still have the bulk to win any tug-o’-war, AT&T Co has managed to marshall a surprisingly strong team for its own view of the appropriate compromise between the two Unix camps. Against IBM, DEC, Hewlett-Packard Co, Siemens, Bull, Nixdorf and Apollo Computer, AT&T is now able […]
While the industry heavyweights in the Open Software Foundation still have the bulk to win any tug-o’-war, AT&T Co has managed to marshall a surprisingly strong team for its own view of the appropriate compromise between the two Unix camps. Against IBM, DEC, Hewlett-Packard Co, Siemens, Bull, Nixdorf and Apollo Computer, AT&T is now able to field Unisys, NCR, Fujitsu, ICL and Amdahl, Prime Computer and Gould Computer as well as Olivetti and Sun Microsystems, and without the massive muscle of Siemens and Hitachi, in terms of total business done, the two sides would be a near even match. The sticking point now seems to be whether the Unix kernel should be the one from IBM’s next release of AIX, or the one in AT&T System V.4 – and from more than one direction is coming an insistence that IBM has intrinsically the better product – one source even dubbed it Unix System V.5. AT&T is understood to have made a serious offer to relax restrictions on access to its technology, on condition that the Foundation agreed to adopt AT&T technology – indeed the phone company is said to be suggesting that the Foundation should share the development work with its own labs. Current Foundation plans are for a future version of IBM’s to be the basis of OSF Unix: this version is said to incorporate V.2 and V.3 features but to steer clear of AT&T extensions such as the Remote File System that, coupled with AT&T’s licensing policy – which could now open up – angered manufacturers back when V.3 was released. DEC, which required considerable effort to bring its BSD-based Ultrix to System V Interface Definition compatibility, is said to be the main objector to any further shift towards AT&T technology. This may remain a considerable sticking point for any attempts by AT&T to get System V technology adopted by the Foundation, but, on the other hand, just about every serious RISC and complex instruction set microprocessor runs AT&T System V.3 Unix now, which has to make it easier to extend the operating system for those processors by using Foundation features built on an AT&T kernel than to try extracting all or part of a product built on an as yet undelivered drastically rewritten AIX product. Another issue is that AT&T is insisting that as part of any rapprochement, any company should be free to become a Foundation sponsor with a seat on the board – and most of the 11 companies in the AT&T camp may well want to pay their $4.5m dues and get a seat on the board which could lead to somewhat chaotic board meetings and an embarrassment of cash flowing into the Foundation. It is clear that the negotiations are going to be extremely difficult and are likely to be protracted, but almost all parties are agreed that the stakes are so high that they have to succeed.