OS News

29 March 1999

Unix Wars Episode II: IBM Strikes Back

By Jeffrey Keith Boulier

Currently, there are four projected Unix variants making their case to be the "official" Unix of the next millennium  
IBM allied itself with SCO to develop a new, united Unix for both the IA-64 and PowerPC architectures  
The challenge of bringing all of these different operating systems together is immense.  
Sun is also acquiring code from Oracle and Netscape which it is planning on bundling into the operating system.  

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.

  • IBM/SCO's "Monterey"
  • Sun's Solaris
  • Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX
  • Compaq's Tru64
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 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 features.

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 mainframes.

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 Alpha processor.

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 (Irix)

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 of it.


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 running.

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.

Lineup Changes?

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 the door.

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)
op. sys.:

AOS/VS,        Data General      DG/UX          "Monterey"

OpenVME        Fujitsu-ICL       Unixware       "Monterey" 

GCOS,          Groupe Bull       AIX            "Monterey"
BOS 2*

Multics*       Groupe Bull,      GCOS           "Monterey"(2)

OS/390,        IBM               AIX            "Monterey"(3)
OS/2, TPF,
(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 
XSP                              Unix?]

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 Novell.

(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 out.

(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 instasanitarium@worldnet.att.net

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