PST-A New Way to Develop Open Systems Technology

OSF hopes to get more technology to the market, faster

[Last March the Open Software Foundation (OSF) announced, as part of its reorganization, a new development process designed to get more open systems technology to the market faster-the pre-structured technology (PST) process. When we queried UniForum members about PST a few weeks ago, the most common response was, "What is it?" Here's an explanation.]

PST, according to OSF, will allow groups of open systems companies-OSF sponsors or others-to initiate proposals to fund and develop new open systems technology. It will also allow OSF to manage the programs and license the technologies, but will place development in the hands of companies or organizations outside OSF. What that will accomplish, both vendors and end users are hoping, is to get more open systems technology to market faster than OSF has been able to do on its own, because of its limited staffing.

As explained in a just-published overview by OSF, PST will have five phases:

The Authoring Phase

"In this phase, an authoring group forms to write a PST proposal addressing a need in the open systems industry. The authoring group need not be comprised of OSF sponsors or members. It may invite additional participation or may keep the work private until submitting it to the OSF for review.

"OSF is available to provide consulting help during the authoring phase," according to the document. The distributed computing environment (DCE) developed by OSF and a combined Motif GUI and common desktop environment (CDE) project are both in the authoring phase now for their follow-on development after current releases are out-CDE 1.0 at the end of 1994, DCE 1.1 probably in November, and Motif 2.0 just released.

While anyone may initiate a PST proposal, at least two OSF sponsors are required to sponsor one.

The Project Approval Phase

Once a PST proposal is submitted to OSF:

OSF staff members review the proposal's technology, project plan, business and legal aspects. They see whether the project meets a user need, whether OSF can re-license the technology, and whether it meets cost and other guidelines. Then the plan is formalized.

PST Approval Phase

The PST is submitted to the OSF Board of Directors with funding commitments from sponsor companies and a selected prime contractor. A two-thirds vote is required for new PSTs, a one-third vote for follow-on projects.

Funding Phase

The project steering committee becomes official. OSF contracts with the prime contractor, obtains funding, and assigns project staff. OSF sponsor companies that have not participated in the authoring phase are given a chance to become sponsors and provide financial support.

Project Development and Ship Phase

The prime contractor manages development. The project steering committee sets project policy and strategy. "The OSF Project and Program Management Group provides overall program management and reporting, auditing of the prime contractor, and representation of the technology to the OSF membership, industry, forums and standards bodies. The OSF Business Development group sets OSF pricing and licensing terms and promotes the technology the project produces."

While technology developed through the PST process is available to project sponsors first, OSF makes the technology available to the industry when the project is finished. Sponsors may also release the technology. "The specifications for the technologies are submitted to appropriate standards or specification bodies (such as X/Open) for their consideration."

Will It Work?

If the new process works, in a year's time, OSF will have more projects in the process than it is now working on. "Each individual project may not happen any faster using this process than had we done the development," says Jack Dwyer, OSF public relations director. "We can do more of them. We can bring more technology to market faster than we could have brought them to market ourselves."

Throughout the PST process, OSF will have a new means of drawing on end-user expertise and advice. An End-User Steering Committee is headed by Ted Hanss, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Information Technology Integration. End-user representatives sit on the OSF Architecture Planning Council and at least one will sit on each project steering committee. But opinion is divided on how well the yet-untried system will work. "Every possible opinion is represented among the end-users," says Steve Jenkins, a member of the End-User Steering Committee and software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. "If there is a consensus, it is that we have the determination to make it work. It's different from being optimistic or pessimistic. We were involved in ways that we found pretty much satisfactory in the reorganization itself. We are determined to work within the structure set up and to try to make it succeed.

"Open systems will succeed or fail based on whether it satisfies end-user business requirements, period," Jenkins says. "We believe in open systems. We want it to succeed, and we want to do whatever we can to clearly articulate our business requirements and to give the OSF sponsors an opportunity to succeed at filling them. The fundamental thing is that this will all succeed if we're telling them what we need and they're selling it to us, and we're buying it."