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February 26, 1987


By CBR Staff Writer

Microport Systems president Charles Hickey is so concerned at the negative reaction in the US press to last week’s agreement between AT&T and Microsoft on Unix System V for 80386-based machines that he has written an open letter contending that the concessions have all come from Microsoft, Xenix will disappear as a separate product, and that the agreement is good for all: here are his arguments.Last week’s announcement by Microsoft and AT&T regarding Unix for the 386 sets the stage for unprecedented growth in the Unix market centered around 80386 based personal computers. Both Microsoft and AT&T must be applauded for this decision. What I find surprising about the announcement, however, is that it is almost exactly the opposite of what has been appearing in the press since Uniforum. The truth is that no one’s business will be hurt because of last week’s Microsoft-AT&T Unix announcement.

Dropping Xenix

In fact, the announcement has broadened the Unix market for Microport, and for all other vendors as well. At Uniforum, Microsoft, Interactive Systems Corp and Santa Cruz Operation announced a joint marketing agreement for Xenix System V for the 80386. In Microsoft’s discussions with the press it was believed by some that AT&T would be adopting Xenix as the standard for the 386. It was also assumed by many that AT&T would grant Microsoft exclusive marketing rights to Unix on the 386. Actually, quite the opposite was announced. It not only sets the stage for widespread acceptance of the Unix operating system on the coming generation of 386 based Personals, it dramatically changes Microsoft’s position in the marketplace. The truth is that Microsoft’s acceptance of the AT&T standard can only be good for all of us. Microsoft’s news release last week indicates that it is dropping Xenix and picking up the AT&T/Intel 386 Unix implementation. This is the same version of Unix that Microport and over 80 other companies have been using for months. The announcement goes on to say that in January 1988 a version of the AT&T/Intel Unix 386 will be available which will run Xenix 286 applications in object code form. This feature will be available to all AT&T licencees in that time frame; not just from Microsoft, Interactive and Santa Cruz, but from Microport as well. Finally, AT&T will allow Microsoft and other companies to call this product Unix. This is a significant breakthrough, as in the past AT&T never allowed independent companies to use the Unix trademark to name a product; however, this significance touches all of us, not just Microsoft. During the period between Uniforum in January and last week’s announcement, numerous front page stories were written naming Xenix as the new standard, and granting Microsoft exclusive control of that market. Actually, Microsoft hasn’t received exclusive marketing on any provision of the agreement. AT&T is not picking up Xenix at all; instead, Microsoft is adopting the generic Unix from AT&T and Intel. This represents a major change in Microsoft’s position in the operating system marketplace. Not only did Microsoft fail to get an exclusive agreement, but they are surrendering a significant proprietary edge in controlling an installed customer base. In the past, vendors wanting to run Xenix applications had to buy from Microsoft or Santa Cruz, and at a hefty price. Now Xenix compatibility will be available directly from AT&T, or through third parties such as Microport. In the future, customers can choose to buy from Microsoft, or get an identical product from AT&T or Microport at a competitive price. Why would a company that had significant control of the Unix marketplace do this? In May 1983 at the National Computer Conference, AT&T announced a program with the four major microprocessor manufacturers, Intel, National, Motorola and Zilog, for joint development of AT&T-certified standard versions of Unix for each of these manufacturer’s microprocessors. This program was loosely referred to by AT&T as the Micro Port program. In this program, each manufacturer would perform the conversion of Unix

to its processor under AT&T supervision. Upon completion and certification by AT&T, the resulting product would be sold by AT&T in source code form to any interested party. The AT&T Micro Port program set the stage for several major developments in the low-end Unix market. First, quality would go up, since no one knew as much about Unix as AT&T Bell Labs. Secondly, costs would come down, because AT&T would be subsidising the development. Thirdly, a true standard version of Unix would be available across all microprocessors, since AT&T would be going to painstaking steps to assure that each microprocessor version of Unix would be virtually identical to Unix on the others. On all but Intel microprocessors, these AT&T standard Unix implementations have gradually won out over proprietary Unix implementations, such as Xenix. Last Thursday’s announcement is the result of a four-year effort by AT&T to regain control of the Unix marketplace. To do this, it is ft is so far behind that it has no choice but to drop its own development and pick up the Back in 1983It is ironic that back in 1983, Intel first worked with Microsoft to develop Unix for the 80286. In November 1983, Intel reassigned the contract to Digital Research. I joined Digital Research to run that project. While I am not privy to why Microsoft did not proceed with the AT&T-Intel work it may have been because it could not obtain a proprietary advantage in the market. In the emerging 386 marke86 Unix and Xenix applications, and MS-DOS applications in a multi-user-multi-tasking environment. It could easily be the 386 operating system everyone has been looking for.

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