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July 28, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

It has often appeared to be a problem for Burroughs Corp and its successor company, Unisys Corp that Michael Blumenthal moved into the top job in 1980, but the perceptions of a self-confessed computer industry outsider can be of great value in cutting through the obfuscation with which the industry likes to cloak its works. Unisys Corp has mounted a campaign to bang together the heads of the leaders of the two Unix camps and dissaude them from destroying the industry’s most promising hope for machine independent operating system standards since the birth of the industry. The campaign was launched with full-page ads in the Herald Tribune and the Financial Times setting out Unisys’ case for a rapprochement and seeking to mobilise users (CI No 970). Making it clear he is leading the campaign from the front, Michael Blumenthal this week expounded the Unisys arguments in the Wall Street Journal: here is part of what he wrote: In assessing the schism between AT&T and the Open Software Foundation, users should keep in mind three basic facts:

1. Neither camp has yet achieved vendor neutra lity. AT&T must resolve the potential conflict between its own aspirations as a computer maker and its role as the developer of Unix for the industry. Recent statements indicate AT&T recognises this imperative. On the other side, the Foundation has its own conflict of interest and technical problems. Its Unix variant will be created by stirring together personnel and technologies drawn from member companies. The core technology apparent ly will come from IBM, which has the industry’s biggest financial stake and a reputation for resisting the spread of vendor-neutral stand ards. The Foundation will be severely challeng ed to build an operating system and development program that’s genuinely free of vendor bias and influence and that protects the investments users have already made in Unix-based systems.

2. We need a single standard – not two. The best way to slow down openness is to prolif erate competing standards. AT&T has a widely used product and an experienced development team while the Open Software Foundation has rights to other promising technology and a plan for build ing a vendor independent institution for over seeing product and standards development. AT&T and the Foundation should follow the suggestion of a number of companies and users and go for ward together in some fashion with a single, vendor-insulated Unix development effort. The whole user community, and in particular the US government and the European Community, should speak up for such a standard and demand a promi nent place in whatever governing body reults.

3. The more users speak out, the faster openness will come. Today’s spat over Unix is a small eddy in a very powerful current. Full standards were recently agreed upon for exchanging data among disparate systems (the so-called Open Systems Interconnect, or OSI, standards); soft ware compatibility across systems is also making strong progress. Advanced software technologies (fourth-generation languages and system-neutral databases, for example) can already bridge many disparate computer systems. And even the compe ting Unix efforts of AT&T and the Open Software Foundation are, in fact, committed to standards being specified by the National Bureau of Stand ards and X/Open, a consortium of hardware and software vendors that includes Unisys.

After four decades of investing in computers that could not talk to each other, wary users can take heart. The 1990s will be an era of glasnost for computers, if users will assert their interests.

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