The Open Group

Corporate Backgrounder

May 1996

Table of Contents

  1. A Brief History
  2. The Advantages of Open Systems
  3. The Challenge of the Open Systems Process
  4. The Cooperative Process
  5. Evolution of The Open Group
  6. How The Open Group Operates
  7. Moving Forward

A Brief History

The multi-billion dollar open systems market has grown rapidly in recent years as open technologies have continued to offer business advantages unmatched by proprietary systems. However, the same diversity and competitive momentum that give open systems vendors their advantage in the enterprise computing market, also pose obvious challenges for coordination and standardization of products.

As a result, over the last decade, open systems consortia and end-user customer groups have been established to help monitor and structure the activities of open systems vendors, with X/Open Company Ltd. (X/Open) [ ] and the Open Software Foundation (OSF) [ ] emerging as predominant sources for system standardization and new technology development, respectively.

With the recent growing demands of the marketplace for new open systems applications, OSF and X/Open have increasingly collaborated to generate optimal value for their constituents and the end-user marketplace. Their February 1996 consolidation as The Open Group signaled a quantum leap in the collaborative relationship between X/Open and OSF. Today, The Open Group oversees the activities of both of the OSF and X/Open and promotes their complementary roles in the open systems process.

The Advantages of Open Systems

The rise of open systems computing has been one of the most significant developments in the evolution of information technology over the past decade. Begun in the mid-1980s and originally denoting computers using the many variants of the UNIX operating system, "open systems computing" today describes a significantly wider range of technologies and specifications, embracing the interoperability of a variety of systems based on formal or de facto standards. Today, more and more end-users customers are committing to a distributed, client-server information systems strategy based on open technology solutions.

According to International Data Corporation, an information technology research firm, approximately three-quarters of the enterprise computing market has either evolved to a client-server environment or is strongly evaluating such a move. As a result, computer and system software vendors are loudly proclaiming their dedication to the development of open systems strategies and product lines. At the same time, those companies relying on proprietary-based strategies to meet customer needs and requests are finding it increasingly difficult to compete.

Leading companies and government agencies around the world have adopted open systems as the right approach to ensure greater access to data, easier integration of systems and more rapid portability of applications across the enterprise. The reason for this success is the inherent value of the open systems approach which supports interoperability across heterogeneous platforms. It allows the end-user customer greater freedom of choice in determining which hardware platforms, operating systems, applications and development environments are best suited to a particular need. It offers these customers the investment protection and other advantages of compatible products developed by software and hardware vendors who are nonetheless competing on the basis of innovation, price and performance. It creates a single market and computing environment coalesced around the needs of customers out of what otherwise would be a much smaller market of fragmented, incompatible products. For customers, the flexibility and adaptability of open systems pay dividends by helping companies to optimize their investments in information systems.

Unlike proprietary environments, an open systems environment allows users to choose from a wider selection of computers that fit their business needs. These systems also offer increased interoperability, scalability and portability, permitting different systems to fit together, and software developed on one platform to run on another with minimal adaptation. Users also have the assurance that future purchases will easily integrate with existing systems, decreasing their reliance on a single supplier, and the need to replace an entire system.

For system and software vendors, an open product strategy allows them to focus on their core competencies rather than on base-level components, ultimately reducing time-to-market and net development costs.

For both vendors and customers alike, the open systems approach offers a greater ability to impact the future. Open systems make possible the development of standards-based backbones across multiple platforms, such as the Internet as we know it. Without open systems, the explosive growth of the Internet, with all its potential, could not have happened.

The Challenge of the Open Systems Process

While a diverse and heterogeneous computing environment based on open systems has many compelling advantages, there are also challenges unique to the open systems strategy. Unlike proprietary technologies, with open systems there is no single, monolithic arbiter of decisions about product development, timing and coordination.

This ensures freedom of choice for the customer and freedom of innovation for the vendor, but it also makes more complex the process of developing new technologies that adhere to open specifications. The competitive framework in which vendors participate in open systems - combined with the diverse needs of their customers - create a pluralistic market sometimes characterized by a lack of cohesion, incomplete coordination of efforts and perhaps unnecessary (i.e., non value-adding) complexity among products in the same area.

Even today, users can often expect to spend more of their budget dollars on the integration of diverse platforms than on the computer systems themselves over the course of a given year. And as the demand for more and better open systems products has intensified, so too has the demand in the marketplace for greater coordination of product platforms and reduced time and cost associated with bringing products to market.

To help the sometimes unwieldy open systems implementation process keep up with customer demand, vendors have been forced to address the challenge of industry cohesiveness and enhance the ease and clarity of developing new technologies in the arena of open computing. As a result, technology standardization is occurring at levels beyond the operating system to include graphical user interfaces, application interfaces, connectivity schemes and distributed-processing architectures.

The challenge for user group and industry consortia like OSF and X/Open has been one of establishing a unity of purpose among the diverse players in the open systems industry without sacrificing the strengths and energy of a multi-vendor competitive environment. The solution rests with the strengthening of the cooperative process

The Cooperative Process

The pluralism of the open systems process has always required a level of cooperation to work effectively, and with the increasing demands of the marketplace comes the increasing need for cohesion. Market forces are gradually creating a need in the open systems industry for a coordinating body to oversee a cooperative process for open technology development. Ideally the cooperative process should establish a continuum of activity involving end users, independent software vendors (ISVs) and open systems vendors, streamlining and optimizing development for efficiency and value for the marketplace.

In its simplest terms, the cooperative open system process involves four major components or phases operating in a continuous loop to promote ongoing development, quality improvement and innovation:

Evolution of The Open Group

Since the rise of the open systems movement in the mid 1980s, overcoming the challenges and preserving the advantages of heterogeneous computing have been common goals of a number of industry-supported organizations, among them the UnixWare Technology Group (UTG) [ ], Object Management Group (OMG) [ ] and more recently the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) [ ] and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) [ ] in addition to X/Open and OSF. There have also arisen market-specific open systems coalitions, for example the Petrotechnical Open Software Corporation (POSC) [ ], which functions to pioneer open computing solutions for the oil and gas industry. Collectively, these open systems organizations have sought to institutionalize and coordinate the cooperation that is so essential to a market built around shared specifications.

Among these groups, OSF and X/Open were two industry consortia that played central roles in organizing and promoting open systems. While the activities of X/Open and OSF overlapped in some areas, in general, the efforts of the two organizations evolved to focus on different aspects of a single cooperative process that is required for bringing interoperable technology to market.

OSF became a focal point for technology research and development, providing an industry-neutral setting for collaborative research and development delivering source code implementations of open systems specifications. In contrast, X/Open focused its activities on the practical implementation of open systems by delivering product specifications, based on worldwide industry consensus. These product specifications are backed by the X/Open brand mark, a vendor guarantee of a product's conformance to open systems specifications. It is this brand mark that enables the open systems customer to fit the various pieces into an integrated solution.

In the years leading up to the formal announcement of their consolidation, OSF and X/Open increasingly found areas of common ground for cooperation and mutual activity. Primarily, both organizations identified a common goal to drive their joint initiatives: the growth of the open systems market. Most recently X/Open and OSF announced the cooperative development project for the next release of the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) [ ] and its convergence with Motif (CDE/Motif) [ ]. X/Open was also closely involved in the development of standard interfaces for OSF's Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) [ ]. Similarly, OSF worked closely with X/Open on the refinement and adoption of the X/Open Federated Naming Service (XFN) specification, and the Single UNIX Specification [ ].

Consequently, the consolidation of the two organizations as The Open Group represents an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change for each organization and ensures much closer collaboration and more intensive streamlining of the open systems process. The result is reduced time to market and an increased ability for each organization to leverage the investments of member vendors, ISVs and end users toward the generation of real-world value in the marketplace.

How The Open Group Operates

The Open Group has evolved to create a more seamless relationship between X/Open and OSF that improves the cooperative open systems processes critical to the continued success of the market. The organization's mission is to enable customer choice in the implementation of multi-vendor information systems. The Open Group will accomplish its mission by leading collaboration among customers, system and software vendors, other consortia, and standards groups to consolidate, prioritize and enable timely vendor responses to customers' current and future requirements by:

Today, in the platform development area, The Open Group will intensify the promulgation of X/Open's current specifications, in particular, UNIX 95. In the future, The Open Group will spearhead development and certification of new platforms that further extend the portability and scalability of open systems. In the Internet focus area, The Open Group's present efforts to integrate JAVA and DCE-Web are the first components of the organization's commitment to developing the business uses of the Internet, toward the establishment of secure, open and robust systems for electronic commerce. Similarly, in distributed computing, The Open Group's current focus on open network computing (ONC) and DCE will, in the future, expand to include even greater attention to "federated" systems based on managing rather than eliminating a diversity of computing solutions.

Within the conceptual framework of these three areas, The Open Group will pursue tactical initiatives in five areas intended to extend the prevalence, utility and value of open systems computing.

They are:

In practice, The Open Group is organized to focus its work in these tactical areas by way of a new streamlined process involving simplification of the interfaces between the two organizations. Chief among these is the replacement of the OSF End-User Forum and the X/Open User Council by the new Open Group Customer Council (OGCC) [ ]. The largest and most influential assembly of open systems end users to date, the OGCC will play a major role in driving the open systems process as The Open Group coordinates the development and standardization of the next generation of open systems technologies. To that end, in a substantial expansion of customer influence within the organization, the OGCC will also direct and monitor the ongoing work of newly-established Open Group work teams that will spearhead new technology in each of the organizations five tactical areas.

While a portion of the functions of each organization will be consolidated, much of their activity will continue as before. Specifically, OSF's three principal technology development channels will remain intact. They are:

The PST and RFT processes will continue to develop commercial-quality software that vendors can use immediately as the basis for products. By the same token, the output of a Research Institute investigation will remain complete open systems prototypes for rigorous testing and measurement as well as a platform for others to build on.

Similarly, X/Open's product standard development process and branding programs will continue relatively unaffected by the formation of The Open Group. However, collaboration with the OSF is likely to increase the level of activity in coming years. During the procurement process, the X/Open brand symbol has become the internationally recognized guarantee of compliance with open systems specifications - an essential tool for planning and implementing an open client-server computing environment. In 1995 alone, the X/Open brand has been a requirement for over $5.6 billion in computer systems procurements.

The Open Group's future branding strategy is to extend the value of the X/Open brand into other open system user implementation areas including an increased set of "branded" systems, software and services, as well as a portfolio of information tools designed to facilitate and integrate the client/server planning, evaluation, piloting, procurement and implementation processes.

Moving Forward

It is a watershed moment in the evolution of open systems computing. The enterprise computing marketplace is expanding rapidly; new technology is evolving at an accelerating rate; the explosive growth of the Internet is literally changing the way businesses and individuals think about and use information.

None of these changes would have been possible without the uniquely collaborative and creative open systems industry. And, in the future, information technology customers will never fully realize the almost limitless value and potential of the systems they continue to adopt in ever-increasing numbers unless the open systems industry adapts to keep pace with the requirements of its customers.

More than any other organizations in open systems today, the OSF and X/Open have been at the forefront of promoting the dynamic and energizing the equilibrium between industry competition and cooperation. And only by harnessing both the competitive and collaborative impulses of the industry can it best serve its customers.

Competition and collaboration are the two sides of the open systems industry coin, each equally important for the vitality of the industry. The impulse to compete in the open systems industry - like any industry - is the source of all innovation and risk-taking. The impulse to collaborate, on the other hand, is based on the recognition that the marketplace is best served by genuine diversity than by hegemony. Heterogeneous enterprise computing needs a heterogeneous industry to serve it. Collaboration in the context of competition is the way the open systems industry makes that happen. It is the objective of The Open Group to fulfill that mission.

About The Open Group

The Open Group [ ] - the combined forces of X/Open Company Limited and the Open Software Foundation

Dedicated to the advancement of multi-vendor information systems, The Open Group is an international consortium of vendors, ISVs and end-user customers from industry, government, and academia. Under The Open Group umbrella, the Open Software Foundation, Inc. (OSF) and X/Open Company Ltd. (X/Open) work together to deliver technology innovations and wide-scale adoption of open systems specifications. The OSF hosts industry-wide, collaborative software research and development for the distributed computing environment. X/Open Company's brand mark is recognized worldwide as a guarantee of compliance to open systems specifications. The Open Group is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, with European headquarters in Reading, England and offices in Menlo Park, CA; Washington, D.C.; Brussels, Belgium; Grenoble, France and Tokyo, Japan.

1996 , The Open Group. All rights reserved.

Open Software Foundation, OSF, the OSF logo, OSF/1, OSF/Motif and Motif are registered trademarks of the Open Software Foundation, Inc. X/Open is a registered trademark and the "X" device is a trademark of X/Open Company Ltd. The Open Group is a trademark of the Open Software Foundation, Inc. and X/Open Company Ltd. UNIX is a registered trademark in the US and other countries, licensed exclusively through X/Open Company Ltd.