Although both AT&T Co and the Open Software Foundation insist that talks looking to resolve the conflict between the two rival Unix developments continue, it was fairly clear that negotiations were not going too smoothly last week when that group of 18 AT&T supporters – now known as the Archer Group – made a public commitment to pure Unix System V.4. The 18 members – Amdahl Corp, Control Data Corp, Fujitsu Ltd, Gould Computer Systems Inc, ICL Ltd, Intel Corp, Motorola Corp, NCR Corp, Ing C Olivetti & Co SpA, Prime Computer Inc, Sun Microsystems Inc, Toshiba Corp and Unisys Corp on the hardware side, joined by software companies Human Computer Resources Ltd, Informix Software Inc, Lachman Associates Inc, Micro Focus Plc and Unisoft Corp – claim to account for around 75% of the Unix systems so far sold. And although AT&T itself is not strictly speaking a member of what is effectively the AT&T Unix fan club, it is re-enforcing the move by conceding some of the main points of contention that led to the original dissatisfaction of the Hamilton Group and directly on to the formation of the Open Software Foundation in the first place. Timing his words to tie in with the announcement of the Archers, AT&T’s Data Systems Group president Robert Kavner re stated AT&T’s intention to spin off future development and licensing of Unix System V into a new Unix software division, separate from our computer business. Kavner said further plans would be announced shortly, and significant developments are now expected before the end of the year, a far cry from the previous position that such a move was a couple of years away. AT&T has also dropped the controversial licensing requirements that insisted on the inclusion and implementation of Remote File Sharing on Unix versions from System V.3 onwards, and is currently on tour with its System V.4 software developers conferences – to make sure we’re on the right track, according to conference speaker H Garrett. Henning Oldenburg, director of European Operations with the Open Software Foundation at its newly established Brussels headquarters, said that the Foundation had already held talks with 10 of the Archer companies, and that further negotiations with AT&T were continuing this week. Oldenburg confirmed that the barrier to further progress was currently the argument over whether the base for the Foundation Level One specification should be IBM’s System V.2 and V.3 compatible AIX kernel or AT&T’s System V.4 kernel. The Archer Group is insisting on the use of V.4 – full stop, said Oldenburg. OSF is willing to consider V.4 technology, but only if we can put it through the ‘open process’, with both V.4 and AIX on the table so that our members can pick out the best technology of each. Archers argue forcefully that to ask users to move straight up to the next release of AIX will effectively involve a conversion, rendering all the existing System V.3 software obsolete, whereas, they say, System V.4 represents a clear progression that preserves users’ investments. And when one bears in mind that it is in the interests of both IBM and DEC, the two dominant companies in the Foundation, to keep Unix cribbed, cabined and confined to the engineering workstation world, and out of the way of their mainstream VMS, MVS, OS/400 or whatever, it is clear that pushing something that represents a hiatus with present versions of Unix, and which, many Archers believe, won’t meet the timescales outlined by the Foundation, serves their interests of stopping Unix penetration of commercial sites in its tracks very well. What could turn out to be a further sticking point is the future development of the operating system: the Foundation plans to take base AIX technology from IBM and continue development itself; and would insist on doing the same with AT&T’s System V.4. 100% subsidiary no good Oldenburg did not seem impressed with AT&T’s plans for a separate Unix division – it’s no good if it turns out to be a 100% owned subsidiary, he said. Even so, the recent concessions from AT&T, and increased press
ure resulting from the formation of the Archer Group should spur both sides on towards finding a resolution, with some predicting an announcement in the very near future. Moreover, all the money committed to the Open Software Foundation is so much hot air: very little of it has yet been spent. And the fact that it has agreed to take space in Symbolics Inc’s Cambridge building is also something of a red herring commercial property in Cambridge is not exactly a drug on the market. So the balance of the money could be returned and the Foundation disbanded without a major upheaval – except to the careers of a few officials who would have to return to their firms. Meanwhile, all is quiet: the latest official AT&T statement says only that the two sides have agreed to continue talks, and that none of the issues will be discussed outside the meeting place until a decision is reached.