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IBM inks Unix pact with SCO

Big Blue unveils a software alliance to develop a single operating system to run on its server systems that use IBM and Intel chips.

4 min read
IBM is hooking up with Intel, Santa Cruz Operation, and Sequent to develop a new Unix operating system, although analysts are skeptical of its impact.

The new version of Unix, code-named Monterey, will merge with parts of IBM's Unix operating system (called AIX), some of SCO's UnixWare (a popular version of Unix for small businesses), and a bit of Sequent's PTX technology. The OS will run on Intel's 32-bit and upcoming 64-bit processors as well as IBM's Power family of chips.

It's expected to reach the market in about 18 months, around the time when Merced is due.

As part of the alliance, IBM will then adopt Intel's 64-bit Merced chip, said sources. To date, IBM has been mum on its plans for Merced.

IBM and Intel are also setting up a development fund to persuade software companies to develop products for the new system. No financial details were released, but the firms said the investment is in the range of tens of millions of dollars.

The new OS could present another challenge to the acceptance of Windows NT for central computing functions. Microsoft's server operating systems has been gobbling up Unix market share in lower-end servers. Corporate users, however, have been reluctant to commit more complex areas of their operations to NT, because it does not perform as well as Unix in multiprocessor and multi-server environments.

Nonetheless, the Unix market remains fragmented, which means Unix vendors are fighting themselves as well as Microsoft.

"For the moment, it's just another Unix system," said Scott Lundstrom, analyst at AMR Research in Boston. "The consortium needs to grow much closer than this. Intel is not someone who sets the agenda for the Unix community. And IBM definitely has a bias."

Facing that challenge, the Unix world has been rife with rumors that its developers would come together to form a more unified front to fight off the NT attack. But Lundstrom said that at this stage in the battle, such a thing is unlikely to happen.

"If the Unix community was going to set a unified front, it should have done it 24 months ago. NT was vulnerable then," he said. "Frankly, it might be too late to put the genie back in the bottle."

Still, it is a step toward creating some commonality among the Unix companies. Intel announced in September that it was launching an all-out campaign to establish common standards among the Unix vendors as it prepares its high-end server and next-generation 64-bit technologies.

The high-end market is one that NT continues to have trouble penetrating; mostly it's being used instead as a department-level server system. Some Analysts said this fact affords Unix vendors a window of opportunity to continue growing.

But Dan Kusnetzky, a program director at International Data Corporation, believes the alliance is just another example of the fragmented Unix market.

Compaq has its Digital Unix (soon to be renamed), Hewlett-Packard has its HP-UX, Sun Microsystems has its Solaris, and now IBM and SCO have merged their Unix offerings.

"The Unix people can't get their act together. Once again, Microsoft will be able to come in and say, 'See, we told you so, NT is easier,'" Kusnetzky said.

Intel, which participated in the announcement today, will help support the new IBM/SCO Unix offering by helping IBM in establishing a fund of tens of millions of dollars to encourage independent software vendors (ISVs) to port their software to the new platform.

It won't be the first time Intel has helped to fund efforts that will encourage companies to shift to Intel's 64-bit platform, known as IA-64. "Intel wants as many people as possible to come to the IA-64 party as possible," Kusnetzky said.

The chip giant also has helped out other Unix players, including Novell Netware, and Red Hat, which distributes a version of the Linux OS.

SCO stands to benefit from the alliance, Kusnetzky said. The company currently has an 80 percent market share for servers running Unix on Intel chips, but it's under attack by Microsoft with Windows NT, Linux, Novell Netware, and higher-end Unix systems.

Jean Bozman, a software analyst with IDC, noted that SCO has been casting about with partners for some time in an effort to collect the required resources to move to IA-64. In 1996 and 1997, the company was in partnership with HP to develop a version of Unix for IA-64, "but the partnership broke down and they both walked away from each other," Bozman said.

One company that could suffer from the new alignment is Microsoft, if SCO, IBM, and Sequent manage to combine their various strengths. "Put together, it could be a very strong competitor," he said.

But Bozman pointed out that SCO's success doesn't entirely mean Microsoft's loss, since Microsoft owns between 11 and 14 percent of SCO.