Ramifications of the common Unix binary interface Unix International Inc’s plans to specify a common application binary interface for Unix implementations running on different CPU architectures so that independent software vendors – as far as is possible – can create one version of an application that will run under multiple graphical-based Unix environments on the […]
Ramifications of the common Unix binary interface
Unix International Inc’s plans to specify a common application binary interface for Unix implementations running on different CPU architectures so that independent software vendors – as far as is possible – can create one version of an application that will run under multiple graphical-based Unix environments on the same microprocessor systems, will still leave some outstanding incompatibilities not resolved by the applications binary interface. There is little doubt that different looks and feels will still prevail, and these are to be addressed by a streamlined conversion environment that can be whittled down over time as more features are incorporated into the binary interface. What goes in and what gets left out depends on how much political ground is conceded between SunSoft Inc, Unix System Laboratories Inc and other Unix Labs members. Unix Labs chief Peter Cunningham says that his company is trying to push the application binary interface specifications as high up the code structure as possible. The higher up it can be cut, the lower development and conversion costs will be for software vendors, and the quicker their time to market. How far past the X Window level the binary interface will go remains unclear. Bits of both Open Look and Motif are already in there, and some features will be handled as objects. But Cunningham admits that the interface is unlikely to make it up to the XT intrinsics level, the level upon which the various interface looks and feels are created. How long it will be before branded products are on the market is a function of how high the specification is cut and the time it takes to generate the test suites.
Published as addenda
It will be months not years claims Cunningham, who is shooting for product implementations around the third quarter of next year. The application binary interface won’t be published as part of the next RoadMap because it is too big, although a snapshot is promised, but it will appear in the same timeframe. The RoadMap is already out to members for review in draft form. Other features also under consideration – which won’t make it into the binary interface this time around – include requirements for application to application communication and linking, updated networking topologies, common installation and system administration facilities. As the binary interface won’t be updated until a year after its first edition, additional requirements like these will be published as addenda. The project is being positioned as Revision 2.0 of the Unix Applications Binary Interface set. The first interface effort encompassed specifications for character-based implementations of Unix System V.4.0 across a range of CPUs and converged around the roll-out of System V.4.0 by the then AT&T Unix Software Operation at 1989’s Unix Expo show. A year earlier it was the late Vittorio Cassoni – then head of AT&T’s Computer Group and the man that forged the deal with Sun Microsystems Inc which lead to the creation of the Open Software Foundation – who was sufficiently encouraged by the work of London company UniSoft Ltd on a binary compatibility standard for Unix running on Motorola Inc 680X0 and 88000 CPU lines, to back the concept of Unix application interfaces. Borrowing from the Intel Corp-MS-DOS world, the idea was that character-based applications should run under a compliant version of Unix as easily on one machine as on another with the same CPU. As well as Motorola CPUs, Revision 1.0 was eventually implemented on Intel iAPX-86, R-series and Sparc lines too. ABI 2.0 will address the same processors, plus Hewlett-Packard Co’s Precision Architecture RISC.
Hopes held out for a Unix brand for application software
The net result of Unix International Inc’s latest Application Binary Interface effort may be the creation of a Unix brand for operating systems against which software vendors could develop common applications. The implication is that products like SunSoft Inc’s Solaris, Santa Cruz Operation Inc’s Open Desktop and Univ
el Inc’s UnixWare – as well as Unix System Laboratories Inc’s System V.4.2 – would undergo a testing and branding process to prove their Unix credentials. Unix International chief Peter Cunningham says he is just starting to investigate the technical possibility of such a scheme, and the idea is already doing the rounds of industry executives. There is a reasonable chance of it happening and there is a collective will to support it, Cunningham believes. Cunningham agrees with SunSoft that companies that might not have agreed to the effort in 1991 or 1992 are certain to be driven into the arms of the binary interface in 1993 by the looming Microsoft Corp Windows NT. Marketing chiefs have been doing their sums and have worked out that volume counts, says Cunningham, pointing to Unix’s 1m a year run rate against the huge base of Windows users – increasing at 1m a month – many of which will be targeted for NT. Down the road, Cunningham hinted, Unix International is likely to seek other partners for technology development work – it presently uses Unix Labs almost exclusively. He denied that Unix International would be doing this to appease SunSoft and the others that are said to be unhappy about the situation, and he refuted suggestions that SunSoft is demanding Unix International’s commitment to use other suppliers and non-Unix Labs technologies as a pre-requisite for it signing off on the application binary interface effort. There is no negotiation with SunSoft, Cunningham says. He is well aware however, that if Unix Labs were to hold the keys for an industry standard specification, there would be problems, and concedes one supplier can’t fill in everything: the Unix Labs issue is recognised.
New UniForum chief wants to bring customers closer
Three weeks into the job and Richard Jaross, UniForum’s new executive director, is talking about revitalising the place and giving it more of a customer focus. Jaross, a Data General Corp and before that a Digital Equipment Corp alumnus, had been director of educational services at Data General and intends to make use of that background at UniForum. Despite a rising Unix base, he is facing flat membership of 6,500 souls and 69 corporate sponsors and a clear lack of enthusiasm for the old user group even among the diehards. He feels he needs to spur membership among resellers and commercial end users and will probably use regional educational programmes to support such a drive. More importantly, however, considering the perilous economic climate and the number of people out of work, he is also considering kicking off an employment register of sorts, where UniForum members looking for jobs could avail themselves of free advertising in the user group’s magazine UniForum Monthly. Sounds like a practical start. Good luck, Mr Director.