Looking at the 20 years of fragmented UNIX, I was just wondering if Linux and Open Source might be the driving force to reunite the UNIX market.
Linux already gets shipped and supported by nearly all the big UNIX vendors: IBM, Sun, SGI, HP, DEC, and SCO. They all say it's just for the low-end market and reserve the high-end for AIX, Solaris, IRIX, HP-UX, Tru64, and UnixWare/OpenServer.
If you look at the list, except for SCO they're not just in the operating system market but also sell hardware. So why should every single one of them develop every single new feature of their *NIX to sell the hardware and support? Wouldn't it be more efficient to put all development into one single UNIX, one which is owned by everybody: Linux?
Let's get some rough numbers about market share from the open jobs at dice.com, searched by keywords, all data from 16.12.1999:
|OS search term||open jobs|
|SCO or Openserver or Unixware||364|
|"OS/2" or OS2||487|
|Tru64 or VMS or VAX||1214|
|Mac or Macintosh or Apple||2976|
|"HP-UX" or HPUX or "HP/UX"||3073|
|Novell or Netware||3339|
|Solaris or SunOS||13103|
|Windows or Winnt or "Win NT"||30823|
Just Solaris is ahead of Linux. That's probably why Sun was the last one who felt it necessary to ship its hardware with Linux preinstalled.
Of our remaining UNIX vendors, who's the most active in supporting Linux?
SGI. Their projects include XFS, NFSv3, GLX (OpenGL for X), the 4gb-mem kernel patch, the Linux kernel debugger, raw I/O, async I/O, and lots of other cool stuff. Check out http://oss.sgi.com/.
Fewer employers look for IRIX knowledge than for dying OS/2, which probably made SGI turn their OS strategy to Linux. Their list of projects makes it look like they don't want to perpetuate a serious difference between IRIX and Linux; they're really helping big time in making Linux ready for the enterprise. Four of the features they're working on have been addressed by Microsoft as "better in NT than in Linux"  (XFS = journaling and >2gb files, async i/o, 4gb memory).
So what's going to be the crucial difference between Linux and IRIX which will make people want IRIX? My guess: none. SGI will someday ship and support fancy-looking MIPS boxes with Linux and their cool graphics stuff, and they'll sell even better graphics stuff than they have now, because their developers won't have to take care of some UNIX nobody wants anymore. Look at IBM, too: they ported Linux to their S/390 mainframe-line, not their own AIX.
One other reason why all the vendors should try to defragment the UNIX market: Windows NT will stop eating their market share. NT is popular because there's only one of it , not TruNT, HP-NT, OpenNT, NTWare, NetNT, FreeNT, NTi, NTOS, NTsServer, and NTnux. A developer who wants to support the whole UNIX market has to compile 10 times and care for 10 different compilers, libraries, directory structures, installation programs, kernel APIs, etc. The poor admin who has to take care of three different UNIXes in his company's network has to care about different program versions, different directory structures, NFS blocksizes, administration tools, etc.
A Windows developer has to compile his program exactly once and press it in winstallshield. The NT admin has to care about only one system.
Let's make a quick operating-system-fragmentation-layer-model:
|4.||Communication protocols||keeps computers from talking to each other at all|
|3.||Programming API||makes it harder to port software|
|1.||Hardware platform||keeps programs binary incompatible|
Fragmentation in layer 4 doesn't matter in our case, but that's what Microsoft is going to make when they win the browser war. Let's hope the mozilla beta in q1 2000 will change the situation, or that somebody buys opera and GPLs their browser.
The Programming API layer is fragmented in the UNIX world. There's mostly only ANSI C, X, and gcc, which exist everywhere, but it's still not trivial to port between *NIX.
The kernel API is the most useless fragmentation of them all. It's addressed by POSIX and UDI (http://www.project-udi.org/), but the differences between the most important UNIX kernels don't justify the problems they make. What are the big differences between the Solaris, AIX, IRIX, HP-UX, and SCO kernels?
Sure, Linux is the weakest of those kernels. It doesn't scale well over 4 CPUs, can't do >4gb ram, has no proven clustering solution, lacks grained security, etc. But it will come to the same league sooner or later, and Linux has one feature no other kernel has: the GPL, the only warranty that work which is contributed to the public will stay there and nobody can use it to only his advantage.
The reason why the UNIX market fragmented was that all the vendors wanted some features in their UNIX the others didn't have. This is useful to give customers a reason to buy a certain UNIX, but it doesn't have to be in the kernel! The difference could still be in the hardware, support, tools, applications, brand, look and feel, whatever.
Microsoft cares about Linux, but I guess they're really afraid of a reunited UNIX market. I'll go buy SGI stock now.
arnim rupp has been a Linux admin for an ISP for 4 years, wrote his diploma thesis about the future of open source software (sorry, only available in German) and is soon moving to beautiful Heidelberg. Please forgive the bazillion spelling mistakes in his original writing, as he's from .de.
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