X/Open Set To Begin UNIX Branding

Program will coincide with release of products later this year

X/Open Co., owner of the UNIX brand name, is gearing up to begin a formal branding process for UNIX products. Although a schedule has not been announced, indications are that the branding process will coincide with the release of new UNIX-based products by system vendors later in 1994.

"We are absolutely on schedule" for awarding of the UNIX brand, X/Open's chief technical officer, Mike Lambert, told an audience at the recent Xhibition conference in San Jose, CA. "The X/Open fast track is done. It's all over except for the final editing process. You are going to see unified UNIX."

No major changes in the branding plans have been made since the announcement by all major UNIX vendors of the Spec 1170 UNIX unification plan in September 1993, Lambert said. Spec 1170 will allow programmers to write applications to a common set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for all UNIX systems. Novell, owner of the source code to System V release 4 of UNIX, agreed to transfer the UNIX brand to X/Open's control last October. Lambert said development of a test suite for UNIX brand candidates is also on schedule.

Spec 1170 was initiated because the core APIs of the various UNIX implementations contained a number of what Lambert calls gratuitous differences that do not add value to the systems but do increase cost, especially on the part of application developers. UNIX vendors needed a standard specification in order to reduce development costs and complete with newer integrated operating systems packages, namely Microsoft's Windows NT. Originally there were 1,170 separate APIs that were part of the Spec 1170 project.

Vendors hope that the acceptance of Spec 1170 and implementation of UNIX branding will further the acceptance of open systems. "Incompatibility between versions of UNIX has been the biggest barrier to the adoption of open systems," Lambert said. "That is what's standing in the way, particularly of small-to-medium sized companies that want to change."

Publication of the X/Open specification for Spec 1170 is expected during the current quarter, and branded products are expected to be available by the end of the year. Sponsors of X/Open's unified UNIX project are Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Novell's UNIX Systems Group, the Open Software Foundation, and SunSoft.

"What we are doing is realigning the trademark to what the majority of people think UNIX is," Lambert said. "It's a technology rather than a few thousand lines of code developed by AT&T. It's a conformance mark that applies to any product that conforms to Spec 1170."

Four Conformance Areas

Products to be branded will have to conform in four areas: the X/Open Portability Guide (XPG4), which lays down basic system interfaces, commands and C language requirements; the Spec 1170 system interfaces; a set of internationalized terminal interfaces; and the network APIs, consisting of the sockets interface originated in Berkeley UNIX and since adopted by major vendors, and the X/Open Transport Interface (XTI), version 2.

The set of internationalized terminal interfaces, designed to give UNIX a way of communicating with character terminals, which are not X Window-capable, is known as Curses. Curses was included in the branding scheme in part because independent software vendors frequently use Curses functions. Many applications either use Curses as their main display vehicle or as an alternate if an X-Window display device is not available, according to Seth Rosenthal, Novell software engineer.

The sockets interface is included for standardization because of the large body of existing socket-based applications and because it is already supported by most UNIX vendors, Rosenthal said. Sockets provides an interface to transport layer network protocols such as the transmission control protocol (TCP) used on the Internet. The version to be used is 4.3 BSD Reno, the most recent.

Three Stages

The UNIX branding scheme contains three stages: interim branding, soft UNIX branding and hard UNIX branding. Interim branding is available now as a step to make UNIX apply to more products before full branding is implemented. To comply, the product must conform to XPG3 or XPG4, comply with the System V Interface Definition (SVID2 or SVID3), be subject to a Novell license, and be committed to move to hard UNIX branding within a year.

Soft branding mandates full conformance to Spec 1170 but not necessarily to internationalized Curses, whose specification has not been submitted to X/Open yet. Vendors also need to commit to moving these products to hard branding.

When products are hard branded, they must conform to Spec 1170 version 1, internationalized Curses and undergo full testing.

Some products that are branded may be operating system neutral or operating system independent, Lambert said. The products that are operating system neutral will use the XPG trademark instead of the UNIX trademark and will provide the broadest possible portability.