In what looked suspiciously like the biggest bluff in the history of the computer industry, IBM and its cohorts yesterday duly came together in a satellite extravaganza in New York, Atlanta and Geneva to announce creation of the Open Software Foundation. The declared aim of the Foundation is to create a vendor-independent standard around the Posix open Unix standard – but the real aim is clearly to force AT&T to the negotiating table and persuade it to meet the demands of the dissidents. The seven founder Sponsors have agreed to subscribe $13.5m each to the Foundation, and are inviting other firms to become Members, paying $25,000 a year if they are commercial companies, just $5,000 a year for non-profit organisations. Philips has said it wants to be a Member. But the aspect of the announcement that arouses deep suspicion about the real motives of the participants is the line up of officers for the Foundation: chairman is Hewlett-Packard executive vice-president John Doyle: fair enough. But also on the board are IBM chief John Akers, DEC chief Ken Olson, Nixdorf boss Klaus Luft, Bull chairman Jacques Stern and Apollo chairman Tom Vanderslice. Hardly the first names one would pick to head up a technical standards body, but just the big names you’d like to be able to drop in a battle with a recalcitrant competitor. For the record, the Application Environment Specification Level 0 will embrace 18 standards led by Posix, the X/Open Group’s Base Level, ANSI XJ311 C, ANSI standard Pascal, Fortran, Ada, Basic, Cobol and Lisp langauges, X Window 11, the GKS and Phigs graphics standards, Arpanet and TCP/IP networking standards plus selected Open Systems protocols, and SQL Level 1 and 2 database technology – in other words motherhood and apple pie. The actual implementation will be based on an unannounced future release of IBM’s AIX, to be called Advanced AIX – but the Foundation may add to or subtract from the IBM offering and makes no commitment to be compatible with it. For Level 1 of the standard, the Foundation hopes to take something from each of its members Nixdorf’s Reflex relational database, Bull’s multiprocessing Unix for instance. It was stressed at the meeting that the attendees wished that AT&T was there, and that an invitation for AT&T to become a Sponsor was still on the table. And making it even clearer that AT&T is the target, the Foundation commits to a timely, vendor-neutral decision process, early and equal access to specifications and continuing development, hardware independence, and reasonable, stable licensing terms – all issues in the battle with AT&T.
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