The Analyst's Couch
Unbound Opinions from Industry Observers
When Everything Is Called Unix
By Philip A. Johnson
When the fans of UNIX '95 are counted, please count me out.
UNIX '95 is the name X/Open utilizes to certify those operating systems
that are in compliance with a test suite, including the Spec 1170 application
programming interface (API) specification. Any operating system that passes
the appropriate tests is certified as being UNIX '95-compliant. Thereafter,
it can be described as being Unix.
Let me say that I do favor standardization. I believe that Unix can survive
only through increasing the commonality of the environment. I am reminded
of the comment by Benjamin Franklin on the signing of the Declaration of
Independence, "We must all hang together, else we shall all hang separately."
The Unix vendors must work jointly to produce a common environment for developers
and users. Lacking this, the Unix vendors will be progressively sliced and
diced by Microsoft.
The problem I have with UNIX '95 is the name. [Editor's Note: According
to X/Open, UNIX '95 now is known as the Single UNIX Specification.]
The Unix marketplace is moving toward being more and more commoditized.
Think for a moment about what a fully commoditized marketplace means. Think
about bleach. Fundamentally all bleaches are identical. They may add a bit
of perfume, but fundamentally all bleaches are the same. If you got bleach
in an unmarked bottle, it is unlikely that you could identify the manufacturer.
So how do bleach manufacturers compete?
Brand-name recognition is the quickest answer. Clorox spends millions of
dollars to make sure that consumers recognize the brand name of its product
and have favorable associations with it. The use and abuse of a brand name
is an issue to which companies in commoditized marketplaces pay lots of
As the Unix marketplace commoditizes, brand names will be the most valuable
resources the vendors own. They will cherish and protect the name the market
recognizes for their products, much the way Clorox does. Brand awareness
will be a key metric of the success of an operating system.
I am not convinced that anyone in the state of Iowa, for example, recognizes
the names HP-UX, Solaris or AIX. Well, maybe a few do, but I know that a
lot more people in Iowa recognize the name Unix. They may not know all of
the latest information on what is in Unix, but they recognize the trademark.
Unix is being sold into broader audiences. It has moved out of the technical
niche to be a product that is used in solutions to diverse problems in all
sorts of marketplaces. As this continues to happen, Unix will be sold to
people who do not have a technical, or even a computer, background. Brand
awareness will play a definite role in these sales.
Muddying the Waters
Sometime in the next few years, IBM is going to be an all-Unix company.
Not only will AIX pass the UNIX '95 certification suite, but MVS, OS/400
and OS/2 probably will, too. Digital Unix will not be the only Unix at Digital,
because OpenVMS will also be UNIX '95-compliant. I expect at some point
a third party will offer a product that can be combined with Windows NT
to allow NT to pass the UNIX '95 certification suite. At that point even
Microsoft will be selling a Unix product. Again, any product that passes
the UNIX '95 certification may use the UNIX trademark and call itself Unix.
So what will the name Unix mean in the future? Less than it has in the past.
Applying the term more broadly means applying it less specifically. If all
operating systems are Unix, then the term means less for the ones that come
from the traditional AT&T heritage. At a time when Unix vendors will be
selling into broader audiences, the UNIX trademark will be used by all operating
system vendors. In other words, the one broadly recognized trademark will
have been given to all comers.
I can imagine, five years down the road, a manager of information services
talking to his new Sun sales rep. "Sure, we buy Unix. I have MVS Unix
on my mainframe, VMS Unix on my departmental system and Microsoft Unix on
my desktops. Now tell me again why I want to buy this Solaris product. I
have more Unix than I can handle already." The Sun rep will be left
to explain that he is selling real Unix, not those imitations. Somehow
I don't think this is an improvement for the Unix industry.
By the way, I do not blame X/Open for this decision. When X/Open received
the trademark, it came with the proviso of how the UNIX trademark would
evolve into the UNIX '95 certification process. It appears that the decision
was made jointly by the Unix vendors and with the approval of Novell.
Once again, let me state that I do not object to the unification of Unix;
quite the contrary. I think it is essential for the continuing welfare of
the marketplace. I just wish they had called it something else, like XPG5
or Posix '95--anything other than UNIX '95!
Philip A. Johnson is director of advanced operating environments
for International Data Corp. in Mountain View, CA.
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