OSF Founders Offer AT&T Unix Versions

Joshua Greenbaum, with contributions from Eric Nee
Computer System News

January 2, 1989

The market clout of AT&T's Unix System V has led key Open Software Foundation members to develop native versions of Unix System V.3 although they publicly favor OSF's AIX-based operating system.

Three OSF founding members - Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apollo Computer Inc. - this year will market releases of Unix System V.3 to run on major portions of their respective hardware lines. All three companies also plan to support OSF's operating system following its scheduled 1989 release.

At DEC, offering a Unix System V.3 operating system moves the company into the mainstream Unix System V market, although the company sells the product only to the telecommunications industry. Since 1985, DEC has emphasized its Unix bsd-based Ultrix operating system. Ultrix also incorporates enhancements from Unix System V, but until late 1988, DEC offered only Ultrix and Unix System V release 2, under the name VAX system V.

HP began offering a largely System V.3-compatible version of its HP/UX Unix for HP 9000 series 800 minicomputers late last year.

The company will upgrade HP/UX for its HP 9000 series 300 minicomputers to make them System V.3-compatible sometime in 1989, according to HP marketing manager Cynthia McCulley.

"What we want is a standard," McCulley said. "The only shippable standard is V.3."

Also, HP decided to offer Unix System V.3 for its PC line rather than HP/UX. The difficulty of porting HP/UX to PCs, in addition to the more than 2500 software applications for Unix System V.3 on 80386 machines, was the main factor in the decision, according to Bob Puette, general manager of HP's PC group.

Apollo too has supported Unix System V.3 since 1985 and last summer began offering a version of its Domain operating system that includes a native Unix System V.3 environment, according to Mike Gutman, vice president of corporate business development at Apollo. The company originally offered a version of Domain that was only partially compatible with System V release 2.

"We concluded it was not what the developers want to see," Gutman said. "It's not a technical issue, it's a religious issue."

The migration of DEC, HP and Apollo to System V.3 contrasts with the often bitter technical war between OSF and AT&T. That conflict has centered on the merits of Unix System V versus those of IBM's Unix System V.2-based AIX, which will serve as the kernal of OSF/1, the group's operating system.

Most OSF members traditionally have supported derivative versions of Unix, such as IBM's AIX, and not native Unix System V. IBM has no plans to offer a native Unix System V for its hardware systems, according to an IBM spokesman.

System V.4 on Horizon

In addition to developing Unix System V.3, some OSF members are working on versions of Unix System V.4, the operating system that OSF rejected in favor of IBM's AIX. HP, DEC and Apollo are considering System V.4, as are a number of other OSF vendors, sources said.

A DEC spokesman acknowledged that ongoing System V work at DEC has included an evaluation of System V.4 and its features. HP's Puette also said System V.4 is "being considered for the PCs."

Apollo is keeping an open mind on the V.4 issue, although Gutman emphasized that the company is focusing the bulk of its attention on OSF/1.

"We will continue to maintain the ability to evaluate V.4," Gutman said.

Observers see OSF companies' continuing work on Unix System V.3 and V.4 as recognition of the need to support customers that have committed to Unix System V - at least until the release of OSF/1.

QUOTE: "The only shippable standard is V.3."

DEC is continuing work on its version of Unix System V for sales into AT&T, the regional Bell operating companies and other select telecommunications customers, according to David Leonard, business manager of DEC's VAX System V group. "Our intent is to leverage new sales [with Unix System V.3]," said Leonard.

DEC began support of Unix System V shortly after the breakup of AT&T in 1983, according to Leonard. DEC offered a Unix System V.2 version until December 1988, when it released a V.3 version for the telecommunications market, he said.

Leonard declined to disclose the number of System V licenses DEC has sold. Nor would he discuss how many DEC machines run System V, except to acknowledge that most of the "tremendously large installed base of VAX and PDP computers" in the telecommunications market run System V.

DEC is restricting its VAX system V sales to the telecommunications industry, said a company spokesman. While customers outside telecommunications can obtain VAX System V is there is a large demand, they first must undergo a review process at the highest levels.

"They do not generally encourage people to go in that direction," the spokesman said.

It was precisely that policy that led DEC to refuse to bid VAX System V to the U. S. Air Force's multimillion-dollar AFCAC contract awarded last November.

DEC had insisted on bidding Ultrix despite the requirement that the operating system be consistent with AT&T's System V Interface Definition (SVID). Ultrix, at the time, was not compatible with SVID.

Wouldn't Back Down

DEC attempted to force the government to change the SVID requirement, but ultimately removed itself from the bidding rather than offer VAX System V as an alternative.

HP's Puette cited the presence of more than 2500 applications currently available for Unix System V release 3.2. "This is a market-driven decision," Puette said of HP's plan to offer System V.3. "We're in an industry-standard business with our PCs."

Puette added that the company remains committed to the OSF operating system environment for its minicomputers.

Widespread Interest

DEC and HP are not the only OSF members funding ongoing Unix System V development work. A recent set of software development conferences on AT&T's forthcoming Unix System V.4, sponsored by AT&T, drew 35 OSF members, including founders DEC, HP, Apollo Computer Inc., Honeywell Bull Inc., Nixdorf AG and Siemens AG. Representatives From IBM's Japanese operations were also present at the conferences.

OSF officials do not see continued Unix System V development work as contradictory. OSF vice president of Operations Donal O'Shea acknowledged in a recent interview that OSF members have no obligation to implement OSF/1 or the OSF's upcoming graphical user interface.

"We have no commitment that they are going to use our products," O'Shea said, adding that sponsors "can't afford to stop their development efforts."

O'Shea said the ongoing development efforts by OSF members make it imperative that OSF offer highly competitive products for its members. "It's up to us to produce a good operating system," O'Shea said.

Copyright 1989