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October 10, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

Without sounding too bigheaded, Hans Strack-Zimmermann describes himself as the grandfather of the commercial Unix market in Germany. Having headed up the Unix research and development operation at Siemens Data Systems for 10 years, and having been involved in the birth of various Unix user committees in Germany, he ought to be in the know. Today he owns his own company in Munich, called iXOS Software GmbH, which technically is a spin-off of Siemens – when Zimmermann left Siemens, he took half the development team with him, leaving the company no choice but to procure products from iXOS. iXOS is now three years old, and the company’s main business is in Unix development tools and applications software, particularly OSF/Motif graphical user interface-based image and archive systems for Unix servers. The Munich company, which now has 60 staff, last year turned over the equivalent of $5m, and is expecting $7m this year. This projection doesn’t include the company’s new east German operation, which has now been in business for just over a year and is already profitable.


The Leipzig subsidiary, called iXOS Anwender Software GmbH, was started up with a handful of local Unix experts, who have spent their first year operating from a student apartment. The problems of setting up in the east are not people-based, says Zimmermann; rather they are practical problems, like finding office space – iXOS Anwender has been lucky enough to fall upon a fur factory in the last month. Even telephones are a luxury communication with the Munich office had to be conducted by means of a cellular car phone for a long time. Zimmermann feels he has learnt a lot about the east from setting up the subsidiary. The first rule, he says, is not to mess around in areas that we know little about – here, he is referring to the eastern culture and eastern needs, which of course are bound to be different from those in the west. The answer is to employ local staff. iXOS Anwender is a totally different company from iXOS in Munich. The Munich office, says Zimmermann, is a software boutique, with a clean, crisp corporate image. Here, the main business is the expensive, high-tech stuff, with a good customised product service. By contrast, the eight-person Leipzig operation is, in his words, a lot more down to earth. Its sells bundled financial control systems to surviving East German businesses, its customers mainly industrial ones, such as a raw wool factory. To date, the customer base in eastern Germany for iXOS totals about eight, but Zimmermann insists this is enough to make business worthwhile. When asked about possible plans for expansion into the rest of Eastern Europe, Zimmermann puts up his guard – East Europe is a very painful past for us, he says.

By Sue Norris

We must be very tactful with Poland, the Soviet Union and the like. And, he points out, their economies don’t call for aggressive software sales… I’ve learned to think about ‘boot-strapping businesses’ out there. We must consider whether they have experts out there, what their culture is, etc… We’re in the process of opening our eyes, but we’ve no specific plans yet. He goes on to say that he has been impressed with Poland its abilities and its level of knowledge of the German language, suggesting that this may be one site of future expansion. Speaking more broadly about the German Unix market today, Zimmermann notes that although many large software houses – such as SAP AG and Software AG – are moving in, they still have a lot to learn. Unix is a culture, says Zimmermann. And software companies must take time to understand it. He cites SAP as having impressed him in this area. A lot of large institutions, he remarks, have over the last year begun to get interested in Unix – banks, for example. And the major car manufacturers were sniffing around some time before that. But, he says, what these customers wanted initially was OS/2. But OS/2 never happened. And, with the rift between IBM Corp and Microsoft Corp, he goes on, the large organisations are thinking twice about

investing in OS/2, and are instead thinking towards Unix. Suddenly, it’s real. So, the demand for Unix in Germany is there now and, judging from the turn-out at last month’s Unix in Deutschland exhibition in Wiesbaden, near Mainz, Unix is something that’s soon going to explode out there in a big way.


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But what about the small independent German software houses how do they establish themselves in the market when the banks just aren’t prepared to risk investing in new technology? Zimmermann admits that this is certainly a problem for any start-up company – unless they can become contracted into a large development project, these companies don’t stand a chance, especially as Germany does not have the culture to foster start-up companies. The vast majority of Germans would much rather work for a large safe company than go off and start up from scratch on their own. What will probably happen more and more in the future, Zimmermann suggests, is that there will be a lot of mergers and takeovers, as some of the big software companies, previously with no experience of Unix, decide that the easy way in is to buy in the expertise. But that does not mean that I am up for sale, he adds quickly, with a twinkle in his grandfatherly eye. We may consider a co-operative though. The French, he says, understand the German market. Led by the dominant continental, Serge Kampf’s giant Cap Gemini Sogeti SA, they are putting in a lot of money, buying up 51% stakes in small companies. French and German management cultures are not dissimilar, Zimmermann explains – they both have low staff turnovers. In the future, we will see their intervention more and more.

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