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January 11, 1988

THE UNIX YEAR IN REVIEW – PART ONE

By CBR Staff Writer

January The worthy folk slaving away at the IEEE Posix standard, have a chance to sign off the core standard by the end of the year. Some 57 companies – including IBM and AT&T – show their support for the standard at an otherwise lacklustre Uniforum exhibition and conference in Washington. And in a further boost for committee standards – and an indication of how AT&T has retreated from its former role in leading the Unix market – AT&T joins the European X/Open Unix application standards group.

The UK’s pre-eminence as a home of experienced and cheap Unix talent draws Siemens, Europe’s most sucessful indigenous Unix vendor, to set up a development centre in Woodley, near Reading. The great and the good of the workstation world gather at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to declare their support for the X Window standard – and soon, no-one can agree whether it should be Window or Windows. A joint announcement by Microsoft Corp, the Santa Cruz Operation and Interactive Systems Corp promises merged, binary-compatible Unix/Xenix product for the 80386, which is likely to be the most important microprocessor in the Unix market for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, the announcement raises more speculation than optimism because AT&T is not ready until February to tell its side of the story, which is that it appears to have been able to pull together disparate 80386 Unix developments onto a System V.3 base and in return for AT&T’s control, the companies will be able to resell the merged product under the Unix name. The world will have to wait until the end of the year for this marvel, we are told.

February Apollo Computer Inc, which has been looking rather lost of late, makes a bid for the limelight with the Network Computing System, a means of distributing applications across networks of dissimilar computers. The Apollo-inspired Network Computing Forum, which brings together users and competing manufacturers and software vendors to pool ideas on the problem, begins to generate considerable interest. The X/Open Group holds a demonstration of portability in which a carefully adapted version of a single application is run on various carefully adapted machines. Some people think this is significant.

The flop of 1986, the IBM 6150, or RT Personal Computer, begins to look more serious as IBM doubles the CPU power and adds all manner of communications. Most interest, however, centres on the declaration that the RT’s AIX operating system is the model for IBM’s future Unix offerings across the board – and on the fact that an extraordinary 1,000 people are said to be working on the RT and Unix in Austin, Texas. Philips Data Systems is the latest European manufacturer to pitch itself into the Unix market in a serious manner.

March Apple Computer Inc promises to offer a Unix implementation for the newly launched Macintosh II – the Apple version of System V is not due for many months, but it later emerges that the company is bidding Unix for at least one major US defence contract. Dataquest reckons the 1986 US Unix market totalled 220,000 systems valued at $4,413m, up from $3,520m in 1985, and forecasts that it will grow at 28% in 1987.

IBM starts to talk about an intangible panacea called Systems Applications Architecture, which is promised to bestow software uniformity on IBM’s incompatible product lines, in the process dissuading customers from defecting to DEC or even Unix. No-one is quite sure whether IBM’s AIX version of Unix has a role within SAA – IBM first says it isn’t included, then says that it is.

April In Germany, Nixdorf Computer and Siemens are set to split the biggest ever Unix systems contract in Europe, put at $165m over three years, to automate unemployment exchanges throughout the country.

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IBM excels itself with the announcement of AIX for the new Personal System/2 Model 80 – it won’t even give a release date for the product until the fourth quarter 1987. The UK Government computer purchasing body, the Central Computer & Telecommunications Agency, makes noises publicly about a future formal ba

cking and specification of Unix for Government procurements. Meanwhile suppliers are called in by the UK Ministry of Defence for a briefing on CHOTS, a planned 24,000 user Unix-based defence office automation contract.

May The X/Open Group’s grand plan for an applications porting centre near Heathrow, England comes a cropper as a survey indicates that software houses are not overenthusiastic about flying in from all over Europe to port applications. But the group is planning to extend its portability guide to cover networking and security and plans to pitch into the relatively unexplored area of a standard method of distributed transaction processing.

A ?5m order for Unix systems may be small beer compared with the monsters emerging from the US Government, but it still represents the largest ever single computer order from the Danish Government and is accordingly awarded to Denmark’s Dansk Data Elektronik A/S.

Sun Microsystems, which now appears to have half the industry reselling its workstations, signs yet another major order, this time with Stratus Computer. At the UK’s European Unix User Show, the Central Computer & Telecommunications Agency finally commits itself with a statement backing Posix and the X/Open Group’s work.

June The workstation market, that fertile and lucrative breeding ground for Unix systems, undergoes a ferocious round of price cutting as Sun Microsystems and Apollo Computer move to stave off the impending threat from 80386-based personal computers in their lucrative engineering markets. Even DEC reduced the price of a diskless monochrome VAXstation to under $5,000.

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