- By John Makulowich

Neatly tucked inside the public relations folder pushing the UNIX Systems Cooperative Promotion Group are product profiles of its core members including industry heavyweights such as Digital, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun, Siemens Nixdorf, The Open Group and SCO.

So new is this recently formed group that searching for its Web page would be fruitless - there isn't one yet. It doesn't even have a headquarters and is currently run from the offices of its public relations agency.

Reading through its literature underscores the need for a UNIX promotional effort that the group is trying to muster. For alongside the testimonials from the key players about the UNIX operating system being the best thing since vacuum tubes are the corporate boasts about why their specific version is Numero Uno.

Not surprisingly, there's serious money involved in this operating system that traces its roots to the late 1960s. Enter historical endnotes like MULTICS, which stands for Multiplexed Information and Computing System, a forerunner of UNICS, which stands for Uniplexed Information and Computing System, and key pioneers at AT&T including Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie.

Today, UNIX enjoys a strong growth market with $39 billion in sales in 1996, a $122 billion systems installed base in the past five years and wide deployment through more than 15,000 software applications across all industries. A recent survey by Netcraft of more than one million servers on the Internet revealed that more than two-thirds were running UNIX, while at least 22 percent were using Windows NT. Clearly, this is the stuff of which promotional groups are made.

The chairman of the UNIX Systems Cooperative Promotion Group, Mark Silverberg, Maynard, Mass.-based Digital Equipment Corp.'s representative and its UNIX product marketing manager, said two sparks ignited the formation of the cooperative.

The customer base and the software development base were asking UNIX producers to get their act together, to come together in common, to offer true portability across different platforms, he said. The second spark was the market expansion that was clearly happening around Windows NT, admits Silverberg.

"As UNIX vendors, we realized that a lot of work was being done on technology but not on marketing and visibility programs. We felt it was time to create a formal group to promote UNIX," he said.

Boiled down to its essentials, the group seeks to create a credible and persuasive brand identity grounded in the most highly valued UNIX system purchase features, for example, a stable, reliable and mature operating system with mission-critical capabilities, robust, scalable, portable, widely deployed, open and interoperable. Its target audience is mid-level information systems management, chief information officers and top management, end users and independent software vendors.

Its models for success? The campaigns of the Beef Industry Council to increase demand for meat and the National Dairy Promotion Program to increase consumption of milk.

Regardless whether its campaign succeeds, the group is clearly focusing on the right messages and the right market, according to observations made about their clients by executives from Electronic Data Systems Corp., Plano, Texas, and Unisys, Blue Bell, Pa., two large companies performing systems integration for a broad base of government contracts.

EDS, part of the global information services industry, employs about 100,000 and serves customers in 42 countries. Its director of Workstation Technologies for Military Systems, Shelly Williams, sees UNIX vendors, for example, Sun, beefing up their high-end systems.

"A lot of our defense clients are dealing with data explosions," Williams noted. "Not only are there more types of data but also more complex types. The military is trying to standardize. For instance, each division of the armed services used to have a separate system for recruiting. Now the Department of Defense is moving to a joint system to share information and ease access. The overall thrust is to consolidate and place ownership of the data at the appropriate level. The trends are clear: quality management and downsizing; and it's affecting choice of system and software."

With this type of demand and these trends raising key issues of open systems and interoperability, Williams sees UNIX vendors making a sustained effort to get their 64-bit strategies on target. On the other side, she also sees both military and civilian clients trying to come to grips with NT in the growing client/server environment. While she does not yet see Microsoft going after the high-end market with NT, there are signs of future trends, with companies like Hewlett-Packard moving toward increased use of the Intel microprocessor and the NT operating system.

Another industry leader in a position to gauge client interest in open systems is Unisys, focusing its corporate efforts on three businesses: consulting, solutions and systems integration; industry-leading technologies; and comprehensive services and products supporting distributed computing environments.

Among its current projects are work with government agencies in British commonwealth countries to create a more responsive approach to delivering services to citizens. For example, in New Zealand, the company installed a new information-sharing system based on open systems and groupware technology for the parliament, which gives all ministers instant access to data on government programs, tax revenues and citizen needs. In Malaysia, it worked with the Registrar of Business on imaging and automation to let businesses apply for licenses much more quickly. In Canada, a new decision-support system helps national investigators reduce unemployment insurance fraud through a countrywide claims database. In the United Kingdom, new initiatives by police departments in London and South Yorkshire enable patrol officers to deal with crime and terrorism more effectively.

- Unisys photo

Tony Turner,
director of the Government Systems Group for Unisys UK

Tony Turner, director of the Government Systems Group for Unisys UK, takes a strictly open systems approach in working on systems integration projects with clients. His lead is followed to the letter by his business director, Mike Spanner.

"We are clearly operating in a hybrid environment at the moment and that increases system complexity," Turner said. "In 1987-88, the UK government and all its major agencies went to UNIX, replacing elderly mainframe systems. We see increased interest in NT, but our clients also show concern about NT's ability to scale. Today, most of our clients view the safe path as UNIX, especially with the number of applications available for different platforms."

Even with that, both Turner and Spanner see NT getting to where UNIX is today in a very short time. Already, they note increased use of NT in specific departments and for desktop use. Part of the incentive is the UK's open government initiative to put the government on the World Wide Web and to greatly speed up the response of government.

- Unisys photo

Mike Spanner,
business director of the Government Systems Group for Unisys UK

In a so-called green paper (http://www.open.gov.uk/citu/gdirect/ind1.htm) titled "Government Direct: A Prospectus for the Electronic Delivery of Government Services," the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and cabinet minister for Public Service noted that information technology "will change fundamentally and for the better the way that government provides services to citizens and businesses. Services will be more accessible, more convenient, easier to use, quicker in response and less costly to the taxpayer. And they will be delivered electronically."

One way to accelerate that delivery is to make Microsoft's ActiveX (formerly known as OLE, object linking and embedding) distributed component software architecture available for the different versions of UNIX. That's exactly what Software AG of Darmstadt Germany, is up to.

The company, a leading independent software vendor marketing its products and services in nearly 100 countries, signed an agreement with Microsoft in October 1995 to make what was then called the core OLE technology available on most non-Microsoft operating systems. Those systems included UNIX, IBM VMS and OS/400. That work is now coming to fruition.

"Microsoft has a steep hill to climb to get acceptance for NT, especially with issues like scalability on high throughput types of systems."
- Steven Vandor
Software AG

Steven Vandor, general manager of Software AG's ActiveX technology group, says the company is still in beta release for Solaris, Digital UNIX and Linux.

"Let's just say we are in a period of high tension and anxiety about our ActiveX core technology implementations for Sun Solaris and Digital UNIX," Vandor said. "We expect to deliver the final product at the end of June, beginning of July. Right now we are taking them through their stress tests."

Software AG's ActiveX work includes a cross-platform implementation of the component object model that is the foundation for ActiveX as well as distributed component object model, the object wire protocol that allows interoperability between distributed ActiveX components. It is the distributed component object model that lets ActiveX components form the core of an open, interoperable architecture for multitier client/server applications delivered over the Internet or intranets.

Vandor is the first to admit some of the difficulties the company had in working with the UNIX versions, for example, the challenge of a 64-bit UNIX platform with the 32-bit
ActiveX technology as well as the different versions of 64-bit UNIX offered, for example, by Digital and Hewlett-Packard. He feels that his work is marginally important in the skirmishing between NT and UNIX for market share.

"Microsoft is clearly trying to improve NT to replace UNIX, but very few would disagree that it has a ways to go before it's ready for prime time," says Vandor. "Microsoft has a steep hill to climb to get acceptance for NT, especially with issues like scalability on high throughput types of systems."

The key point of distributed component object model on UNIX that Vandor stresses to customers is that the good things they hear about NT, like the commonality and the simplicity of the object model, can be delivered today on their legacy platforms. Asked how he will evaluate the success of distributed component object model, Vandor says there are two sides to consider.

"First is the adoption rate among enterprise-class customers that we already know as clients, more than half the Fortune 500. That side of the evaluation we'll look carefully at by February or March of 1998. The other side is the rate of use among independent software vendors, among new customers and those who need this kind of technology. There are dozens of well-known companies who are interested in acquiring the use of distributed component object model.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for independent software vendors to use this technology. We know many have moved from UNIX to NT and have given some things up. Our ultimate mission is to make sure that third parties can interoperate," says Vandor.

The continuing work on NT and UNIX highlights the current issues of an important aspect of open systems and interoperability. Yet it's just one of several aspects. With the rapid development and deployment of the Internet and intranets, there are other areas worth exploring.

One example is the work of the Multimedia and Digital Video Technologies Group, part of the Advanced Network Technologies Division of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.

Leading that effort is Dr. Jean-Philippe Favreau, group manager, whose main focus is working with industry to promote cost-effective, interoperable, distributed multimedia applications and digital video technologies for broadcast, interactive television, video-on-demand and videoconferencing.

That translates into work on measurement techniques and industry-driven standards for distributed multimedia technologies and digital video devices and services as well as on techniques for integrating multimedia services with network technologies.

Among his numerous projects, Favreau points to two that are interconnected: Automated Testing of Collaboration Systems and Fine-grained Distributed Logging and Monitoring over the Internet.

"These are fairly interesting projects as well as critical to the group's mission. We are working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on the next generation collaboration technologies. We are trying to find some means of creating enabling technologies that will allow logging. If you are able to build such technology and integrate it into the new collaboration systems, you'll have a homogeneous way of checking the quality of systems, from human behavior and quality point of view. You will also be able to analyze the network, see bottlenecks and uncover ways to improve the system," explains Favreau.

Getting Up to Speed on UNIX
Searching for a newsgroup to keep up to speed on UNIX developments leads the intrepid Internet explorer through some thorny underbrush. Of the 26,385 newsgroups carried on the Clark Internet Services Inc. server, for example, 145 contain the string, "unix," somewhere in their name. Ignoring those that also sport terms like "bondage" and "erotica," you are still left with a hefty number.

Which to choose? Judging by the quantity of posts, here are the top 10, with the number of current messages in parenthesis:

comp.unix.solaris (711)
comp.unix.sco.misc (548)
comp.unix.aix (512)
comp.unix.admin (431)
comp.unix.programmer (385)
comp.unix.bsd.freebsd.misc (369)
comp.unix.advocacy (336)
comp.unix.questions (311)
comp.infosystems.www.servers.unix (297)
comp.unix.shell (203)

The task for discussion groups is only slightly easier. Of the 71,618 mailing lists covered by Liszt (http://www.liszt.com/), 89 carried "unix" in their name or description. You need to judge for yourself which is the best group, based on your background, knowledge and needs. If in doubt, you might start with the Unix Wizards Mailing list, unix-wiz@listserv.nodak.edu, the Unix Discussion List, I-unix@listproc.net or talk about peripheral equipment for UNIX systems, unix-periphs@conch.aa.msen.com (Majordomo list manager).

Exploring the World Wide Web with any popular search engine will also yield a number of Web forums where you can exchange information and opinions.

- John Makulowich

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