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Technology / AI and automation

THE STEPS TO DISUNIXTY – 3 THE CONSPIRATORS GO PUBLIC AND SCHISM IS COMPLETE

During the build-up to the fateful May 17 announcement of the formation of the Open Software Foundation, it was decided that if the breakaway movement was to lead to a formal grouping, IBM’s AIX version of Unix would be used as the basis of its development work and for that reason, according to Siemens’ Albrecht Doehler, it will be IBM and IBM alone who pays royalties to AT&T. That’s their problem, says the Siemens man dismissively. While the dissidents planned schism they also continued talking to AT&T. According to Doehler, they tried to bring AT&T back to the liberal and equal licensing policy that existed before the Foundation was formed; after all nobody really wanted to start a war with AT&T. All the companies that were going to be involved in the Foundation, Doehler notes, were AT&T licensees anxious that the split not occur.

Exploding X/Open But they were also businesses concerned that AT&T be reasonable and that its licensing principles also be reasonable something that in the final analysis, by the Software Foundation lights, they were not able or willing to do. The Foundation itself tried being reasonable, he notes, and issued a specific invitation to AT&T to join the new grouping an invitation that has so far been declined. Bull’s Georges Lepicard, who’s the only cross-director on the list – he sits on the X/Open board too, says that prior to reaching agreement to break with AT&T the market had to be considered and an estimate made as to whether there was any danger of exploding X/Open… We had to make sure there was a good understanding with the group and X/Open. (X/Open, it should be remembered, does include companies squarely in the AT&T-Sun camp as well as some that are unaligned.) While the Europeans probably talked to their own internal people in the intervening week between the first decision to go with the thing and the considered one to tie up lose ends with Bull, Siemens, and Nixdorf, they didn’t call the press. The They were still waiting on tenterhooks like everyone else to reach the point of no return. The Go signal came at three in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time Friday, May 13 and at a staff meeting in Massachusetts the dissidents dropped a symbolic red flag. Immediately they notified their European counterparts but by then it was already nine o’clock at night in Europe so the Europeans had to use the weekend to alert the press at home that something of major significance was going down in Geneva on Tuesday – that and make them travel and hotel arrangements. As it was they managed to collect 300 journalists from across Europe. Now that the schismatics have made their move, Wobker says, they have to be careful to get their message across to the press, the users and the analysts. The toughest job for a start-up is competing in PR with a giant – especially when it’s not making totally correct statements regarding the Open Software Foundation. Does that mean he feels AT&T has launched a hostile press campaign? Yes, very much so. He says that AT&T is trying to persuade people that Foundation is a bunch of guys with no idea of what they’re doing. This is patently silly in his view. As a Nixdorf guy, it’s hard for me to say this but (IBM’s) AIX is one of the best Unix implementations around – just look at its stability and performance. He takes particular exception to AT&T Data Systems chief Robert Kavner, Cassoni’s replacement, going around saying the group has no track record, especially since he’s this guy from Coopers & Lybrand, a financial guy with no experience, no track record – what does he have. AT&T also knows quite well, he says, that the Foundation isn’t just a consortium of one-time competitors still consumed with their proprietary operating systems, as Kavner claims. It’s a separate company, he says, dedicated to the further development of Unix as an open system, with its own management already in place in which DEC and IBM, Hewlett, Apollo, Nixdorf, Siemens, Bull and now Philips are just investors. Indeed, AT&T has tried to throw cold water on the F

oundation’s research and development efforts by suggesting that consortia rarely accomplish very much and certainly one of the toughest problems the Foundation development team faces is just how to cope with welding the mass of incompatible code offerings of the various member firms into a single, coherent system. Bernhardt Wobker, however, who runs Nixdorf’s research and development and engineering operation in the states, is willing to bet the Foundation brings in a licensable product in 12 months, 12 to 18 months at most, a far more aggressive timetable than the one proposed a month ago by Sandra Reese, Apollo Computer’s senior product development manager, who worried that they might not be able to bring the thing in even in 18 months because they weren’t staffed up. Sparc groupies Wobker, who was in Australia at the end of May trying to get the message across and drum up membership and licensees for the Foundation while the Hewlett guy was storming the citadels of Japan Inc for sponsors, takes heart from the recent public statements by Sparc groupies like Unisys that the Foundation will come to garner wide support despite whatever AT&T says. He’s tickled that even Olivetti’s line on the Foundation – what with Cassoni there now and all – looks positive for them. He thinks Olivetti will eventually pick up its invitation to join as a sponsor. As to AT&T itself, well, he’s convinced its immediate reactions such as moving up the date for the release of preliminary 4.0 source code by nine months and its mutterings that if they (the Foundation) come up with something that the industry considers valuable we… will incorporate it into the Unix System V standard indicates that they see there is no problem. He even thinks AT&T might still be persuaded to climb on board, what with the management changes there and a reappraisal of its plans. Certainly the Foundation will approach AT&T again in the future. But of course that’s why many people feel the Foundation was formed, isn’t it? To force AT&T to the bargaining table. That, and to cut it down to size now that multi-mega buck contracts hang in the balance.

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CBR Staff Writer

CBR Online legacy content.