OS of the Future Will Handle Distributed Computing

Debaters also see system and network management as key

Distributed computing and system and network management are the biggest issues facing computer users over the next few years, four representatives of major system software vendors agreed in a debate in San Francisco held in conjunction with UniForum '94.

The discussion, sponsored by Wyse Technology was supposed to answer the question, "Which Operating System Will Lead the Enterprise into the 21st Century?" Panelists were Jim Billmaier, vice president of marketing for SunSoft; Rick Bohdanowicz, vice president of marketing for the Novell's UNIX Systems Group; Doug Michels, chief technical officer of The Santa Cruz Operation; and Matt Regan, group product manager for Microsoft Windows NT.

The four agreed that distributed computing is the issue of the day. "Companies want to distribute and manage their worldwide resources," Michels said. "System and network management and distributed computing go hand in hand. If you can't solve the management problem, you can't solve distributed computing."

Billmaier added that cost of ownership is also important. "You need to sustain your investment to do all those things," he said.

Although the group didn't get into a full-scale debate on UNIX vs. Windows NT, the UNIX vendors made it clear that they consider proprietary, vertically integrated systems a thing of the past. Regan of Microsoft did not challenge that view. "Proprietary doesn't work as a business model," Bohdanowicz said. "A lot of the future of where we're heading is based on open systems."

The operating system of the future will have to work across many machines, according to Billmaier, because "No one is going to build an implementation that only works on one architecture," he said.

The future operating system for servers may be in doubt, but the desktop system clearly will be Windows, Michels said, so users need to link their Windows desktops with something else. "The users have already bought their desktops. The productivity desktop is going to be mostly Windows. You can have Windows on the desktop and Windows NT on the server, or you can have Windows on the desktop and something good on the server." That "something good," for SCO, clearly is UNIX, though the company is billing itself as a "windows-friendly UNIX company," in Michels' words. "Our purpose is to provide a server that is the center of solving an evolutionary problem that customers have," he said.

Regan said he sees users moving toward "more of a true distributed computing environment that is mostly object-oriented" and that "the employment of standards makes it easier to implement that technology. We are working with standards bodies." He said Microsoft sees itself as having an operating system on the server of the future as well as the desktop. But he added, "We see everyone else on the server too."

Bohdanowicz asserted, "The concept of networking must be there [in the future]. Novell sees the world in a rightsizing environment, but in an increasingly heterogeneous one. We want to reach to the next level to enable integrated applications support."

Though panelists didn't get around to the question posed by the event's title, their answers showed a level of agreement that would give one the impression that the major issues were settled.