The Single UNIX Specification

A Giant Step Toward Standardization

Unlike CDE, the Single UNIX Specification (formerly UNIX '95) doesn't attempt to make all Unix desktops look alike. It does not even allow an application written to one Unix platform to run, without recompiling, on a second platform. Both those attributes, available on Microsoft Windows, are still too ambitious for an industry made up of vendors whose main concern is distinguishing themselves from each other.

The Single UNIX Specification is an application development environment that provides a common foundation of specifications. Software vendors who choose to follow this specification will be in a better position to create portable applications.

The Single UNIX Specification is an X/Open-branded product that resulted from cooperation among Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Novell's Unix Systems Group, the Open Software Foundation and SunSoft. It replaces the current XPG4 specification and defines, among other things, terminal communications, network communications and memory functions.

At press time, only DEC, HP and IBM have products branded with the spec, although a number of others, including Sun Microsystems, say they are close to achieving the brand.

Unlike CDE, for which support is lukewarm, the Single UNIX Specification is welcome in almost all quarters. "It's in everyone's interest that this succeed," says Philip Johnson of IDC. He says that, by consolidating the base applications into a consistent implementation, vendors can better focus their resources on features that distinguish their products.

"It will become easier for application developers to provide products that span multiple platforms," says Patrick Smyth, director of marketing for the Unix business segment at Digital Equipment Corp. in Maynard, MA. The result, he expects, will be lower cost and faster availability of applications and new revisions.

Of course, the benefit may not become apparent for a number of years. "We've already incorporated portability into our product. This [standard] will only become useful to us over the years as we bring out new products and revs," says Jim Lofink of Operations Control Systems.

One way that the Single UNIX Specification will help people right now is in specifying requirements when sending out requests for bids. "UNIX '95 is extremely important to our work," says Greg Vesper of NASA. "It greatly reduces the number of things we have to specify."

Still, the Single UNIX Specification leaves a lot for the individual software vendors to embellish, since it doesn't address all system requirements. In some cases, vendors will find that if they stick to the standard, they will be able to offer portability at the expense of performance. "Many applications will have to be fine-tuned to take advantage of the platforms on which they will run," says Smyth. "It's reasonable to want to squeeze out the highest benchmark, but the more they do that, the harder it will be to port the application."

The bottom line is encouraging. Says Smyth, "Over time, the customer will see less and less difference among Unix operating systems. Vendors will be forced to focus more on value added. That has to be good for customers."

What do users get out of the Single UNIX Specification brand?
According to Graham Bird, X/Open director of branding, there are three business reasons for purchasing such a product:

1. The product is guaranteed to conform to the specs.

2. Any revisions or updates will also meet the specs.

3. If a customer complains that the specs aren't met in a particular product, X/Open will investigate the charges.