UNIXWare Gets a Support Group

Officials of UNIXWare Technology Group explain their organization

Last February the formation of the UNIXWare Technology Group (UTG) was announced. The nine founding members were AT&T Global Information Solutions (formerly NCR), Fujitsu, ICL, NEC, Novell, Olivetti, Sony, UniSoft and Unisys. Chorus Systems, Mitsubishi/apricot, Stratus Computer, Amdahl and Tandem have since joined. UTG's stated objective is "to provide a vehicle for UNIXWare OEMs, technology providers, systems integrators and independent software vendors to directly influence and guide the direction of the UNIXWare system by submitting product requirements and recommendations that will accelerate standardization and extend industry support for UNIXWare as a key operating system for client-server applications."

UNIXWare is an operating system based on UNIX SVR4.2 and developed by Novell and the former UNIX System Laboratories, (since acquired by Novell). It is designed to operate on Intel-based servers and desktops.

In May, UTG announced the appointment of Lawrence D. Lytle as president and CEO and Michael Dortch as vice president of marketing. Lytle was previously Novell's senior director for end-user relations and had been a marketing director at USL before it was acquired by Novell. Dortch was senior writer for Communications Week. UniNews interviewed them within days of their appointment.

Where did the impetus come from to start UTG?

Lytle: I think it came from the OEM partners initially. There are two things happening here. In the past, UNIX System Laboratories, and AT&T before that, always had a mechanism for having a direct working relationship with its OEMs. Novell really didn't have OEMs of the same nature. Yet Novell has a strong reputation for working cooperatively with a lot of partners. Culturally it really fits the mold of both cultures-the old USL culture and Novell's culture-and also it's something that the OEMs wanted to see happen. They wanted to make sure, with Novell's ownership of UNIX and UNIXWare, that they had an opportunity to influence the direction of the technology.

The process by which, and the expectations by which we cooperate are a little different. In the past the OEMs would get together, as they did for UNIX International, and come up with a road map of not just recommendations but really requirements. And they would present those to UNIX System Laboratories. And there was an expectation that those requirements would be incorporated into the development plans for UNIX 4.0 and 4.2 after that. And under the new structure I think everyone recognizes that UNIXWare is a Novell technology. It is Novell's implementation. And Novell isn't necessarily obligating itself to implement everything that's presented as a requirement. Instead what's happening here is that the OEM community and other constituencies that become part of UTG have a direct way of working on a regular basis with Novell. And they will make recommendations. You can probably anticipate that Novell will act on many of them if not most of them. But it still reserves the right not to go act on something.

Dortch: We get to take advantage of what you could perceive as Novell's schizophrenic participation in UTG because they're a member but they own UNIXWare. So commercially it's only in their best interest to implement at least the best and the brightest of the suggestions made by the people driving the market for the product that they make.

Lytle: Every one of the companies that join fits on some continuum of overall commitment to UNIXWare. Some of them are absolutely committed to UNIXWare as the product implementation that they're going to make a market in for UNIX as a high-end client and server technology.

Which ones?

Lytle: I'll mention a couple. You take companies like Unisys and Olivetti, OEM customers. What they're basically saying is "We really want to have a finished product that we deliver to customers. We may add value, but we don't see ourselves in the business now of making major modifications. But we're committed to the server technology and the high-end client technology." So they're much more interested in our organization and doing joint cooperative marketing programs. On the other hand, if you look at virtually all the Japanese members and some of the American companies as well, particularly ones that are in the mainframe business, they're saying, "We want to add significant value, we want to continue to make modifications, so we are more interested in the source end of this arrangement." They're going to be much more interested in technical programs.

Then you're going to have companies who join who are going to say, "UNIXWare is one of two or three implementations that I will support, based on customer demand. So I may have in my product portfolio Windows NT, UNIXWare, or even some OS/2 or Solaris solutions. And if my customers want these solutions I'm going to provide it." And for them, the uniqueness and benefit of UTG is that this is the only organization that gives them that direct voice in making recommendations and working cooperatively with the vendor providing the technology and with other vendors making a market for the technology.

Have any end users come forward and said that they need this kind of organization?

Lytle: This organization starts off with the catalyst 14 OEMs. And I would expect that number to grow by another dozen within the next nine months or so. And added to that, I would expect to see some software developers, some systems integrators and value-added resellers, and certainly some end users. At least three major, very large end-user organizations have already approached Novell and UNIXWare Technology Group and said "How do we get involved?" We're talking about in one case one of the major retail organizations in the world. They are saying "As a user who is going to buy in significant volume, we want to have a voice in this." Right now those mechanisms are not in place. One of the jobs Michael's going to have is figuring out how to serve these various constituencies.

Dortch: A growing number of users are becoming predominantly or exclusively their own software developers. They're turning less and less outside and they're doing more and more stuff inside to tailor software to their specific needs. When you look at the evolution of user needs, there's obviously a role for UTG to play in helping users meet those needs.

Lytle: Some users or some systems integrators and some OEMs may say, "We really want to see UNIXWare on a particular platform." And Novell may say "We don't have the bandwidth and that's not a priority for our development efforts. And we don't see the critical mass there for us to apply a resource to that." A couple of things might happen there. If there's enough pressure from the constituencies within UTG, it may change the level of priority. Or-and this is more likely-enough people share that interest within the constituency memberships of UTG that they say, "That's OK, we're going to get together and roll up our sleeves and do the work or fund the work and apply resources to get it done." I think everyone realizes that no one company is going to be able to do it all, so this basically provides a forum in which people can get together and do those kinds of things.

Larry, you're a former Novell employee working in a Novell building. What does that say about UTG's relationship with Novell? What is it?

Lytle: I did terminate from Novell to take the position. Novell would have been happy to let me go as a loaned executive. They've done things like that on other occasions. But the UTG membership said "No, we can't do it that way. We want to make sure this person is obligated to us, that we're responsible for not only his salary but the salaries of all the people who are part of that organizations, and that they understand where their obligations are." There may very well be instances where there are differences of opinion between Novell as a member and some of the other members or constituencies.

Dortch: Novell is on the bus but Novell is not driving the bus.

Lytle: Novell is actually fronting considerable funds to start this, but that's also similar to what they did when they started NetWare User International, which is a user group which I was heading before I left, but which is absolutely an independent organization with its own board of directors. When I was there I had to maintain an arms-length relationship with that organization. I was really there to liaison with it and to make sure that no one at Novell took any inappropriate leverage from that. For example, Novell couldn't access the database of NetWare International user members to do marketing direct mail campaigns. This is even further removed. This is a separate corporation. But I'm glad they gave us the facilities.

Dortch: If you look at Larry's history and at my history-especially me being a Novell outsider and having written some pretty tough articles about them over the past few years-if all Novell wanted was a couple of shills for UNIXWare they could have found much more malleable people than us.

Michael, you're basically a writer. What are you doing there?

Dortch: I am here for two reasons. One is that I think UNIXWare has been the Rodney Dangerfield of UNIX implementations in that it's gotten no respect. If you look at who owns 70 percent of the LAN market and therefore who represents the vendor who has the largest number of people who stand to gain the most from a UNIX that is easily integrated with their LANs, UNIXWare has got to be an ideological front runner there. The other reason I'm doing this is that it basically extends an almost 15-year career in doing what I call user advocacy. When the idea of this organization was first discussed with me, in my guise as a reporter, I went home excited about it. I hadn't seen an organization like this before. I hadn't seen an opportunity to take LANs and add to them the additional headroom and power that a UNIX that is well integrated with NetWare can bring to these people.

Lytle: During and since the acquisition of USL, I have probably been one of the most outspoken critics internally to Novell. And Novell accepted that. I said I'm not sure I agree with all the ways they're trying to market the technology. Like others around the industry, it was unclear to me where the technology was going to go under the guidance of Novell. And I think it took awhile for Novell to sort of get its arms around that and figure it out.

UNIXWare 1.0 is sort of like any 1.0 product that ever hit the streets. Everybody who took it said "This is great, but I'm certainly not going to make a major strategic commitment to it before I see the follow-on versions. Now we've got 1.1 which is a lot better, and 2.0 imminent. This is where people are making their commitments. So I said, "Now I believe that the solid commitment is there from Novell. The technology is right and customers and others who have used it agree with that. This is a good time to get on the bandwagon and not only ride the wave but drive the momentum in the industry."

With (new Novell CEO) Bob Frankenberg coming aboard, when he says three sentences in a row, you'll hear UNIX in one of those three sentences. Long before he was resurrecting and expanding the PC business for Hewlett-Packard, he was right in the throes of all the UNIX things that company was doing.

What does it cost to join the organization?

Lytle: $35,000 is a sponsor level member and there's a $5,000 associate level membership. Sponsor members have a seat on the board and get to vote.

Many analysts say that UNIXWare is a flop because it hasn't sold well. Are you there to rescue UNIXWare?

Lytle: No. You're talking about a 1.0 release of a client. It aims at an Intel high-end client or server level. It is the leading technology aiming at that space. Sun would like to persuade the world that Solaris is taking over in droves. It's doing very well in the Sun/Sparc space. It's not doing anything in the Intel space. [Microsoft's Windows] NT- there's a product that had high expectations that a number of people are evaluating but the normal response is that it will be some time before I'll want to run any mission critical applications on it.

UNIXWare is not a flop. In the market space that it's intended for, I think it's the leading technology. It hasn't sold hundreds of thousands of units, but I think that has more to do with the fact that you're dealing with the first release and 2.0 is going to make all the difference in the world.