Is OSF Helping Users? Members' Opinions Run the Gamut

Some say organizational moves won't help-others cheer it on

[Editor's Note: As part of UniForum's ongoing program to make member comment and opinion an integral part of UniForum publications, UniNews recently asked a cross-section of members, via the Internet, to comment on the reorganization of the Open Software Foundation (OSF)-which was announced at UniForum '94 in March-and related matters. This issue of the newsletter summarizes the overall response and gives voice to a variety of opinions on the change itself. A future issue will feature OSF's response to the members' questions and comments and give the members' opinions on where the UNIX unification effort should go from here.]

The latest Open Software Foundation/ Common Open Software Environment unification move has left UniForum members evenly split. Although many believe the move either will or could help end users, an equal number say that either no one or only vendors will benefit.

In addition to those views, members:

[For a related article, see "OSF User Members Chart New Course" in the June issue of UniForum Monthly.]

Helps End Users

The benefits to users were clear to Gary Michael Clark, of San Antonio, TX, who said, "It will help with the addition of new technology into UNIX" now that organizations affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, have decided to stop issuing updates to UNIX. To A.F. Gualtieri, of Long Grove, IL, "Any process that consolidates the number of groups and gets more vendors lined up under one group will benefit users. The fact that they have decided to then turn the specifications and testing over to X/Open will also be helpful."

Nobuaki Hashizume, of Mountain View, CA, commented, "I think end users will receive many benefits by simple implementation of GUI and applications APIs." Don Mason, of Eagan, MN, warned that "Vendor agreement does not guarantee the best specification for users." But Mason added, "I think that to the extent the vendors agree on common specifications, end users will see more competitively priced implementations and broader availability of value added features." And ever hopeful was Rudy White, of Moffett Field, CA, who said, "If it will make it easier by setting a standard across all platforms, it would make it better for the users." Equally upbeat was Glenn Kapetansky, of Naperville, IL, who stated, "The OSF move is one more chance that UNIX will compete successfully against [Microsoft's] Windows NT. That is very much a concern to me as an end user. I want to know what to buy and use." Mike McFaden, of Fremont, CA, wanted to keep an open mind: "If the UNIX and X marketplace becomes better unified via common APIs and interoperability, and the cost of technology is driven down, then it helps." Richard H. Gadsden Jr., of Charleston, SC, clarified his bottom line: "It will benefit end users only if it makes it much easier for software developers to port their applications between the many different flavors of UNIX. This is the Achilles heel of UNIX in its current form."

Finally, David McCall, of Rohnert Park, CA, had a what if question: "What if some new startup creates the perfect operating system that will run on any platform? Won't that take away some of the meat (or bread and butter) of our system of competition in these areas?"

Helps Vendors

David A. Trevino Rodriguez, of Monterrey, Mexico, was typical of those who said only vendors are helped. "I think OSF is only concerned with vendors," he said. "But it will be interesting to find out more about this new strategy." According to Chris Maltby, of Strawberry Hills, New South Wales, Australia, "As it relates to COSE, it's primarily a vendor matter. OSF probably has better structures for user input than the original COSE group, but I believe that won't make much difference to the proceedings of the new COSE. And Jay Krone, of Marlboro, MA, said, "It primarily concerns hardware and software vendors, as they each try to maximize the number of software products they support or platforms on which they run."

Helps Both

Some felt the OSF move will benefit both users and vendors. "It will benefit end users because it will move UNIX farther down the path to true plug and play standardization," said Brad Bright, of Irvine, CA. "For the vendors, it will be a benefit because more software companies and end users will look into UNIX as a viable market to enter, and as this happens, more will come at an even faster rate. The snowball effect will begin."

For Mark Di Pasquale, of Cupertino, CA, the importance of continuing the work of COSE is paramount. "Having an organization in which standards can be created and shaped primarily benefits developers and end users," he said. "For example, with COSE, developers should be able to use standard APIs when porting their applications to a vendor's hardware. Since the APIs would be standard, the application should require little, if any, work to successfully run on any COSE-compliant vendor's platform."

Won't Help Anyone

One of the most commonly voiced opinions on the OSF reorganization was put succinctly by Bill Rieken, of Los Gatos, CA, who said, "OSF is no benefit to anyone except OSF. It is a bureaucracy beholden to itself." Even more critical was Kim L. Shiveley, of Richardson, TX, who said, "I think it would have been of more benefit to the end users if OSF had just folded up shop. I think the COSE effort is being diluted to the point that it is meaningless. Spec 1170 (the common application programming interface initiative) is too broad and should go back to being rooted in the POSIX standards. I also think the certification process for CDE is weighted too heavily in favor of vendors as opposed to the IEEE process, where individual end users have a voice."

The benefits were also obscure to Barry E. Hedquist, of Santa Clara, CA, who said, "It is not clear that the OSF move, per se, will benefit anyone, even OSF. But it is clear that as more support is given to standard interfaces, both vendors and end users will benefit."

To others, the entire process now seems to be mired in goo. "It's not clear how this will benefit me," said L.A. Lundquist, of Austin, TX. "It appears to add an additional layer and there is no clear requirements process from the end user perspective. COSE was to be a giant leap, yet it is so bogged down, it can't get even the first entity (CDE) out in rapid fashion." Also frustrated is Mark Kapczynski, of Los Angeles, CA, who declared, "It seems like another great idea that users will never see the end result of." And Hugh Brownstone, of Plymouth Meeting, PA, and a UniForum director, said, "The announcement means nothing. At the point at which Hewlett-Packard disks can be plugged directly into Sun servers, or IBM's TCP/IP does something other than chew up mainframe cycles so that IBM users are discouraged from going open, or different ports of Oracle all do exactly the same thing, then we'll have something to really talk about. Until then, the UNIX/open world has lost tremendous credibility."

These opinions are destined to keep the UNIX/open systems unification pot boiling for some time. OSF's comments and further member voices will be heard in a future issue of UniNews.