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May 26, 1988

WILL THE REAL UNIX PLEASE STAND UP?

By CBR Staff Writer

The setting up of the IBM- and DEC-led Open Software Foundation last week is something on which everybody wants to express an opinion: reactions have been flooding in since the announcement. Most come into the positive or non-committal categories: Unisys Corp, officially in the AT&T/Sun camp since its endorsement of the Sparc, issued a very careful statement from chairman Michael Blumenthal. The OSF initiative recognises that the real user demand for an open computer environment and for a standard Unix operating system in particular cannot be ignored. What is not clear is whether the initiative will genuinely contribute to the timely standardisation and expansion of the Unix system. The answer to that question will ultimately determine the position we take in respect to OSF. ICL, also involved with the Sparc, still regarded OSF as an endorsement of its Unix policy due to the reliance on Posix and X/Open. The more critical reactions tended to come from those nearer to the user. ABS Computers Ltd, a major UK systems supplier based in Brighton, condemned AT&T for provoking the reaction, which it said would damage the market. While there is a single Unix standard, manufacturers are forced to differentiate products through function and price-performance, which puts them under immense pressure but is ultimately good for the user, said ABS marketing manager David Favre. He said that rival manufacturers with artificial unique selling points would force up end user costs. Also critical was Robert Saunders of workstation software supplier Precision Visuals International Inc. It will only muddy the waters of standardisation in the short term, said Sanders, but in the long term, I believe it will accomplish its professed goals. It would be a big mistake for Sun to allow itself to be positioned by competitors as the vendor providing proprietary solutions. Sun itself said it had not ruled out joining OSF, although Barry Jones of Sun UK said he was sceptical of the practical workings of the group. But Peter Griffiths of Unix consultants The Instruction Set Ltd said the move would be of benefit to the industry. Why should we suddenly become supporters of monopoly practices when it comes to Unix? This monoism results from a purist misunderstanding which ignores the efforts of standards bodies to define in isolation from implementation and fervently declaims that there is only one real Unix, one real Unix….

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