New OSF Brings Industry Together

16 companies combine in UNIX unification move

The leading companies of the UNIX industry took another big step at UniForum '94 toward the unified UNIX specification process that users and vendors alike agree would be best for the future of open systems.

Sixteen companies, including sponsors of the Open Software Foundation (OSF) and the former UNIX International, joined forces in a newly streamlined and reorganized OSF that will also incorporate the process known for the past year as the Common Open Software Environment (COSE). OSF left the door open for changing its own name in the near future.

"As individual systems vendors, we will still compete with each other in the marketplace," said OSF Chairman Dennis Roberson. "But we are together in this effort as an industry - an industry united as never before."

It was the biggest news of UniForum '94 and came one year after the announcement by the major UNIX workstation vendors - at UniForum '93 - that they would unify under COSE and begin developing a common UNIX user interface - the Common Desktop Environment (CDE). Keynote speaker Andy Grove, president and CEO of Intel Corp., quipped that UniForum should have shows more often because, in UNIX unification efforts, "Ninety percent of the work each year gets done two weeks before UniForum."

OSF will now oversee CDE and use the COSE development process as the pattern for its own programs, under a new development model it calls PST - Pre-Structured Technology. In the PST process, sponsoring companies will take the initiative in proposing a complete development package, including the requirements and a proposed solution.

PST, said OSF President David Tory, "incorporates the best of the COSE model and formalizes it within the OSF infrastructure - essentially giving it a solid organizational foundation and a framework in which to operate." Most of OSF's existing projects will be converted from OSF's old Request for Technology (RFT) process to PST, but OSF special interest groups and other forums can continue to initiate RFT projects. Both kinds of projects will be managed and funded on a per-project basis by sponsoring companies, which means that projects will be multi-company development initiatives that are separately funded and individually managed. The theory is that more projects can thus be initiated and managed concurrently since engineering will not depend on in-house OSF resources

Clearly, the OSF sponsors believe PST will help focus energy on the projects to get products into the market faster and avoid bureaucratic delays. In addition, by focusing the technology development effort in sponsoring companies rather than relying on it own staff, OSF plans to cut its costs and reduce staffing by one-third to one-half. Mike DeFazio, senior vice president of Novell and head of Novell's UNIX Systems Group (formerly USL), said, "This new per-project, shared funding model reduces up-front development costs, which lets vendors address more technology areas in a shorter span of time. Plus, it enables much more tightly focused development efforts, which can individually address very specific customer requirements."

The sponsoring companies, each with a representative at the announcement, are AT&T Global Information Solutions (formerly NCR), Bull Information Systems, Digital Equipment Corp., Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, IBM, ICL, Novell, NEC, Olivetti, Silicon Graphics, Siemens-Nixdorf Information Systems, Sony, Sun Microsystems and Transarc. The OSF Board of Directors also will have at least one at-large board member, nominated by its End User Steering Committee. Joseph deFeo, chief information officer of Barclays Bank, has been appointed to that seat.

End-user participation clearly is one of the main objectives of the reorganization and the incorporation of COSE, which was the subject of criticism on that score. "We're right there in the midst of it," said Ted Hanss, chair of the OSF End User Steering Committee, about the reorganized OSF. "The COSE process had no phone number and no address and no way of getting into it. We are now getting away from the anti-competition nature that COSE had."

A new Architecture Planning Council will be formed, comprised of OSF staff, representatives from each sponsoring company, and a representative of the End User Steering Committee. That council's job will be to maintain a technology "vision" and review project proposals based on consistency with that vision before they are acted on by the OSF board.

Adding its support to the OSF announcement was X/Open Co., which has had a major role in the CDE and Spec 1170 common UNIX API specification processes. As part of the latest reorganization, OSF will give X/Open a formal role in its own process, under which X/Open will develop open systems requirements and participate with OSF in developing a technology framework for specific projects. After technology development under OSF, X/Open will help validate the specification, oversee brand management and handle user procurement programs.

After a project reaches completion through OSF, the specifications for that technology will be placed in the public domain and offered to X/Open for review, with the intent of having them accepted by X/Open as industry standards. X/Open and OSF also announced plans to send representatives to each other's board of directors. "We're cooperating in OSF more effectively," said X/Open President Geoff Morris.

The first PST project will be the Common Desktop Environment, for which a letter of intent has already been signed.

The transition schedule for moving existing OSF projects to the PST model is to be as follows:

  • The Distributed Management Environment will convert after release of its Network Management Option, due in late spring.

  • The OSF/1 version of UNIX will convert after release 1.3 is shipped early this summer.

  • The Motif graphical user interface will convert after release 2.0 is available later in the summer.

  • The Distributed Computing Environment will convert near the end of the year after release 1.1 becomes available.