This is an update to an earlier article I wrote and posted on Usenet about a year ago, detailing the
consolidation of various Unix vendors into individual "power blocks", the
better to cope with both the challenge posed by Windows NT, and porting to
the forthcoming Intel/Hewlett-Packard Merced processor.
Currently, there are four projected Unix variants making their
case to be the "official" Unix of the next millennium.
This article looks at each of these 'pretenders to the throne',
the lesser lights that surround them, and some of the possible affects on
the traditional mainframe/minicomputer market.
- IBM/SCO's "Monterey"
- Sun's Solaris
- Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX
- Compaq's Tru64
IBM-SCO Juggernaut: "Monterey":
SCO (Unixware, Openserver) + IBM (AIX) + Sequent (Dynix/ptx)
+ Data General (DG/UX) + Groupe Bull
In a major announcement on October 26, 1998, IBM allied itself
with SCO to develop a new, united Unix for both the IA-64 and PowerPC
architectures. A slap in the face to Compaq, Sequent also agreed to join
this consortium, evidently voiding an earlier cooperation agreement made
with the then-independent Digital. Codenamed "Monterey", the first preview
will be in the next version of Unixware, which will include some of AIX's
Both IBM and SCO are bringing partners. The French Groupe' Bull
has worked with IBM on the development of AIX for quite some time, and
Data General had earlier announced its intention to phase out DG/UX and
provide support for SCO's IA-64 efforts.
A large number of other computer vendors have announced their
support for this alliance, many of them historically resellers of SCO's
products. Most notably (for our purposes), Fujitsu's ICL division and
Unisys, both of which integrate SCO Unixware with their own proprietary
Intel has also pledged support for the new alliance, and has put
its money where its mouth is, agreeing to contribute to a fund designed to
encourage developers to port software to "Monterey".
The downside? The challenge of bringing all of these different
operating systems together is immense. AIX, for example, is internally
very different from the mainstream Unix systems. Worse then this will be
the difficulty in maintaining a coherent operating system strategy. As the
Gartner Group concluded, "IBM has a new, but complex, Unix strategy with
reasonably good initial OEM support. However, we believe IBM will
unavoidably fragment its development process and confuse users about its
platform and OS strategy".
The Sun is Hot: Solaris:
Sun (Solaris) + Fujitsu (DRS/NX, SPARC64OS, UTS) + NCR (MP-RAS)
+ Siemens (Reliant Unix)
Second in magnitude to the IBM-SCO "Monterey" agreement, Sun has
the distinct advantage of having started much earlier. The new Solaris 7
includes code contributed by engineers from both Fujitsu and NCR. NCR's
contribution is perhaps most obvious - Solaris 7 x86 has undergone some
major speed improvements. Solaris 8, in an internal beta version right now
and scheduled for release in the first half of 2000, will merge Reliant
Unix's functionality into the base Solaris operating system. Sun has
further announced a version of Solaris (presumably a beta of Solaris 8) is
now booting on a Merced emulator.
Sun is also acquiring code from Oracle and Netscape which it is
planning on bundling into the operating system. Access to Netscape's
technology was acquired by Sun as part of the intricate deal whereby the
Netscape is being purchased by AOL. Oracle's technology is coming from the
the technology exchange which produced Oracle's "Raw Iron" project, which
uses the Solaris kernel to create a turn-key database 'appliance'. Quoting
from Sun's press release, the database experience acquired from Oracle
will enable Solaris to "feature enhanced file storage, email, calendaring,
directory, session information and system management".
A few other resellers have announced support for Solaris,
including Toshiba. Interestingly enough, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Siemens,
while "official" Solaris partners, still do a fair bit of business pushing
SCO's Unixware on their Intel servers.
Incidentally, Sun also owns the rights to both Interactive Unix,
an old X86 SVR3 variant, and ChorusOS, a Unix-based RTOS.
Hefty: HP-UX :
Hewlett-Packard (HP-UX + SPP-UX), and possibly NEC (SUPER-UX, EWS-UX/V), Stratus (FTX), Hitachi (HI-UX)
Hewlett-Packard, for all that it is partnered with Intel in
designing the IA-64 architecture, really hasn't seemed to do much in the
alliance game. HP's original agreement with SCO fell apart, briefly
causing the latter's stock to nose-dive. Right now, Hewlett-Packard has
only signed up partners with which it has had very long-standing
relations: NEC, Hitachi, and Stratus. It has not been announced if these
partners will contribute a single line of code to HP-UX, or do anything
other than sell it on their own hardware. Of the three, Hitachi is most
likely to provide something to HP - its HI-UX is in itself a variant of
HP-UX. Stratus' situation is somewhat murky; it apparently has backed off
from porting FTX to the IA-64 architecture, but the decision may be
re-evaluated once the Stratus Enterprise division is again independent.
The only strains of code definitely available to be put into HP-UX
would come from Convex's SPP-UX. Convex was a small high-end vendor (and
another traditional ally of HP) which was purchased by Hewlett-Packard.
"True of Heart, True of Bits": Tru 64:
Compaq (Tru 64 [formerly DIGITAL UNIX] + NONSTOP-UX) + Samsung
Though their agreement with Sequent collapsed, Compaq is still out
there. The company's goal is to merge Digital's "Digital Unix" (now only a
working title) with its Tandem division's NONSTOP-UX. Compaq's agreement
with Microsoft also may stand them in good stead; Microsoft views Compaq
as having the most acceptable Unix to be NT's friend.
Unlike the other vendors, Compaq is not trumpeting its efforts to
port Tru 64 (the current name of Digital Unix) to the IA-64. Compaq will
instead be relying in the near term on the Alpha. In fact, they have
announced that its Tandem division's NONSTOP-UX will be ported from its
current MIPS processors to the Alpha by 2002.
Compaq has two advantages in this crowded field. Their Alpha
processor is the fastest chip currently in production, and unlike its
competitors, Tru 64 has been a 64-bit operating system since Digital Unix
debuted on the Alpha.
Samsung has declared that they will provide some support for
Digital Unix, working to localize it for Korean consumption. Their
hardware development is more important to Tru 64's success; Samsung is
putting extensive resources into the production of their version of the
Also in Asia, the "China National Computer Software and Technology
Service Corporation" announced that Digital Unix would serve as the basis
for COSIX - the official state-supported Unix variant of the People's
Republic of China.
Both BSDI and SGI have announced plans to port BSD/OS and Irix to
the Merced architecture, respectively.
SGI has been flailing around, with the collapse of its hopes for
MIPS and its failure to find an IA-64 partner. SGI also controls the
Unicos operating system, purchased along with Cray, but this has been in
their hands so long that they probably can't derive any more benefit from
BSDI stands out in a field that is increasingly dominated by the
children of AT&T's SVR4. Already an x86 vendor, porting to Merced will not
be the hassle for BSDI that it may be for others. Strong ties with the
various freeware BSD variants (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD) helps in getting
commercial and freeware applications ported to BSD/OS.
Summary of Unix Mergers, as of now
Sun is clearly ahead, having started so much earlier then everyone
else. IBM/SCO will be a force to reckon with -- Himalaya has by far the
greatest market reach. Compaq, Fujitsu, Siemens, and many other x86
vendors have been selling SCO's Unixware and OpenServer for a very long
time. Hewlett-Packard presumably ranks third on the basis of its inside
information into the design of the Merced processor. After being hammered
for an apparently insincere commitment to the Unix operating system, they
are trying to push themselves back in the running. Compaq is, alas, in
last place. As if having Sequent jump ship isn't enough, they are
experiencing delays in producing the new version of Tru 64. Delivery is
now scheduled for sometime during 2000. SGI doesn't even seem to be in the
If Intel's Merced architecture fails utterly, it would be a major
boost for both Compaq and Microsoft, assuming either Compaq or Samsung can
solve the current Alpha production glitches. Hewlett-Packard and SGI would
both be badly hurt, having reduced emphasis on the long-term development
of their own PA-RISC and MIPS processors. IBM's and Sun's partners would
experience similar hits, though not necessarily IBM and Sun themselves,
barring the collapse of their next-generation PowerPC and SPARC attempts.
These alliances between the various computer vendors are not
fixed. The following is an examination of a few of the more probable
changes among the various vendors.
Ascend/Stratus: Ascend's purchase and subsequent resale of Stratus
to Investcorp has left quite a bit in doubt.
The stripped down Stratus could make a tempting target for Sun.
Stratus is well known for its fault-tolerant systems, and has a strong
presence in the telecommunications market. Both of these are places where
Sun is intensely interested. Hewlett-Packard would be another potential
suitor, because of its historically strong ties to Stratus.
Data General: A persistent rumor has Data General being pursued by
Sun, Storage Technology Corp, and possibly also by IBM and
Hewlett-Packard. This is largely because of its Clariion division's strong
position in the lucrative storage array market. Both IBM and HP would
likely also be interested in Data General's experience building large
Intel-based SMP servers running both NT and Unix -- sometimes even
simultaneously. Neither Hewlett-Packard nor Sun would be adverse to also
pulling Data General's DG/UX operating system (already running on an Intel
platform) away from SCO/IBM and into their own Unix camps.
SGI: It is very hard to predict SGI's future at the moment. One
possibility would be them keeping their independence, but joining Irix
into one of the current Unix alliances. Compaq might be interested in
serving as a partner, as Sequent's departure left a hole in their
strategies for incorporating NUMA into Digital Unix; Compaq already has
relations with SGI due to SGI's use of the Alpha processor in some of its
Cray supercomputers. IBM/SCO are already busy combining many different
operating systems, and it is unlikely that they'd put much effort into
adding another to the mix. HP's partner finding efforts have been
lackluster. Sun is unlikely, but could be "the devil you know".
Another possibility is that SGI, or at least large chunks of it,
could be bought out. Several years ago Sun expressed an interested in
purchasing SGI, but once they had an inside look at the SGI's financial
books, they ran for the hills. Sun may again be interested, as SGI holds a
strong position in high-end systems (through Cray) and is still strong in
markets dependent on graphics performance. Sun's acquisition of all or
part of SGI might be also done in the interests of blocking SGI's contacts
with Microsoft -- MS is reputedly trying to gain access to assorted OS
technologies from SGI in an attempt to boost Windows NT's poor
scalability. However, Sun is grabbing SGI's market share at a fast pace
right now, and may feel SGI could be pushed out of the market without
having to pay the ~$3 billion to acquire it.
BSDI: BSDI's market share in almost every industry is quite small,
except for one - that for Internet Service Providers. Both SGI and Sun are
currently attempting to target this market, and HP, still smarting from
their loss of AOL to Sun, is also trying to get back in the game. What
makes all three lick their chops is the potential to sell extraordinary
amounts of hardware in this market. Owning BSD/OS and the technology that
goes with it would help them get their foot in the door.
X-Server Vendors: Metrolink and Xi Graphics make high-quality X
servers, mainly targeted at the x86 Linux market. Both have extensive
support for a wide variety of graphics cards, which could be of great
value for one of the Unix powerhouses looking at a transition to an
Intel-based world. Sun, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq would be the most
likely suitors. SGI wants to sell its own machines with its own custom
graphics cards, and has less use for the know-how to support others.
"Plays well with others": Minicomputer/Mainframe Impact
All of this merging is liable to have a big effect on the
traditional mainframe and minicomputer markets. Many of the current Unix
vendors are still selling or supporting operating systems they developed
back before they saw the POSIX-compliant light. These vendors tend to have
special features or applications in their Unix environments which were
designed to help communicate with or emulate the older OS. For example,
Tru 64 supports very well all those fancy DEC terminals designed
originally for VMS.
A Unix which has special interoperability with one of the
"traditional" operating systems has extra clout in shops runnning the
older operating system. Compatibility is a good way to get one's nose in
So, here's a list of some of those elder operating systems, and
what Unix brands try to take care of them. A "*" by the name indicates
hardware no longer made for it, but the OS itself is still supported
and/or claims to be Y2k compliant.
OS Company Current Unix Future Unix
TOPS-10, Compaq-DEC Tru 64 Tru 64
DEC PDP-11 Mentec Tru 64 Tru 64 (1)
AOS/VS, Data General DG/UX "Monterey"
OpenVME Fujitsu-ICL Unixware "Monterey"
GCOS, Groupe Bull AIX "Monterey"
Multics* Groupe Bull, GCOS "Monterey"(2)
OS/390, IBM AIX "Monterey"(3)
(and all their
Netware Novell Unixware, "Monterey",
Caldera Linux Caldera Linux (4)
OS2200, Unisys Unixware "Monterey" (5)
MPE/iX Hewlett-Packard HP-UX HP-UX
VOS Stratus FTX, HP-UX HP-UX
MSP, Fujitsu [a Fuj. Solaris
BS2000, Siemens-Nixdorff Reliant Unix Solaris
Wang VS Wang Solaris,AIX Solaris, "Monterey"(6)
Primos* Computervision, unknown unknown (7)
NOS/VE*, CDC unknown unknown
(1) While it may be easier to port applications from DEC-developed PDP-11
operating systems (now owned and maintained by Mentec) to Tru 64, SCO is
still selling Unix System 7 for the PDP-11, and a free version of BSD 2.11
is under continuous development.
(2) Groupe Bull transferred maintenance of Multics to Perigon, but still
owns the rights to it. GCOS is not a Unix, but is still the operating
system "closest" to Multics in terms of the number of utilities existing
to port software from the latter.
(3) While "Monterey" would clearly be the best-equipped Unix-based
operating system to share facilities with the S/390 based operating
systems, Solaris may end up a close second. This would be due to their
collaboration with Fujitsu and Siemens-Nixdorff. Fujitsu's Amdahl division
manufactures S/390 clones as well as UTS, a Unix OS which runs on S/390,
and is a prominent reseller of Sun's enterprise offerings.
Siemens-Nixdorff's BS2000 operating system seems to be based on MVS.
(4) Caldera has a very intimate relationship with Novell. Its founder was
the former president of Novell, its offices are right down the street, and
it resells a variety of Linux tools designed for interoperation with
(5) While Unisys is still selling mainframes with Unixware add-ons, they
have announced that they are pushing their old SVR4-MP (Unisys' old
proprietary Unix) customers to convert to NT. Furthermore, in response to
several requests from large European customers, they have ported Solaris
to their mixed Intel-mainframe systems. Time will tell how it all shakes
(6) Wang's VS operating system has no "official" relation with any of the
major Unix vendors. Most of the products I have seen to integrate with or
replace VS systems run on AIX or Solaris platforms.
(7) Computervision owns Primos, but has subcontracted Peritus to maintain
the operating system.
Jeffrey Keith Boulier can be reached at email@example.com
© 1999 OS News