AT&T's Jeanne Baccash Joins UniForum Board

New director spent years developing UNIX, leading unification

Biograph of: Jeanne Baccash Age: 44 Birthplace: Brooklyn, N.Y. Car She Drives: Leases a 1994 Cadillac Seville for her 60-mile (one-way) commute.

Position: Assistant Vice President, Network and Systems Management Business Unit, AT&T Global Information Solutions (formerly NCR)

Open Systems Leadership: Just elected to the board of directors, UniForum Association

Time in Current Position: 4 months Years in the Industry: 21

Pet Open Systems Peeve: "How frequently the term open systems is misused, misinterpreted and misrepresented. There are lots of people-companies-who say they are committed to open systems when the reality is something different. That's where we do the customers the greatest disservice. When you hear companies that you know are closed and proprietary saying they're committed to open systems, what does that mean to a bank or a retail company? I think we're not always honest about the term and what it means."

For some in the computing industry, open systems has been a concept to adapt to. For Jeanne Baccash, it's been nothing short of a career.

Baccash, who has been leading UNIX system development and unification efforts for years, was chosen by UniForum members in June to begin a two-year term on the association's board of directors. Previously, she was active in UniForum affairs as chair of the technical steering committee.

Math Major

Baccash has spent her entire career with AT&T, the company that gave birth to UNIX, and the company it spawned and spun off, the former UNIX System Laboratories (USL). After Novell bought USL in 1993, Baccash was a Novell employee for a few months until she moved back to AT&T last January, this time with its Global Information Solutions division, formerly NCR.

She began her career with AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1973 after completing her bachelor's and master's degrees in math at St. John's University in New York City. Although she was interested in computers in college, there was no computer science curriculum at St. John's. "I thought about teaching and I still think about teaching because I do enjoy that," Baccash says. She took two or three computer courses in college and added to that by taking several courses from Stevens Institute in New Jersey while at AT&T. Later she taught an introductory computer science course at a community college.

"The interesting thing is that the math background has helped me," Baccash notes. "One of the things you learn when you are a math major is how to take abstract concepts and break them down into workable parts that you can address, attack, and deal with. That's something that has helped me in the jobs I've had. I may talk with a customer who says he needs a system that is easier to manage. What does that really mean? People who are good in math tend to be good at understanding that something that broad can mean many different things. I try to break it into parts and figure out how to address what they really mean."

For her first 10 years with AT&T, Baccash worked in one area-helping automate the regional Bell operating companies, including their inventory, circuits, and business ordering systems. Her first project was called the Trunks Integrated Record Keeping System (TIRKS). With TIRKS she was working in assembly language systems, doing development on IBM System 370 machines. She did customer support, including fixing bugs and handling maintenance, then moved into special services forecasting using Cobol. UNIX was employed for source code control.

In her second project, Baccash helped automate the process of dividing up revenue among the various Bell operating companies from calls between company areas, based on the ownership of the circuitry and cables, as well as federal and state regulations. "That was an extensive effort for a couple of years," Baccash recalls. "We did PL/1 development using the IMS [database management system] on IBM systems. I was also involved in doing customer support, testing, and training. Then I moved into systems engineering, working with the customer to define the requirement."

For her last telephone system job, Baccash worked in systems engineering on a project to mechanize and automate the regional phone companies' business offices. At that time, when customers called to order service, a phone company representative had to manually flip through a number of books to figure out what services and products could be offered. Each regional company had different offerings and procedures. "We built an IMS PL/1 prototype and simulated a telephone office. We brought in service representatives from New York Telephone and did three weeks of intensive testing, basically letting them play with the prototype system. We videotaped the service and improved the prototype product based on live observation of the customer service representatives."

UNIX Development

In 1983, Baccash moved into the UNIX System Organization of Bell Laboratories, later USL, where she worked on UNIX development for the next 11 years. At the time, UNIX System V was going into its first commercial release. Until then, UNIX had been a research project that was made available to universities but was not sold or licensed by AT&T. Baccash, a manager by then, worked on developing the kernel operating system. Eventually, she created a UNIX systems engineering organization to work with customers to plan features that would meet their needs in the operating system. First, the organization worked with a core set of AT&T's UNIX customers. Then she was instrumental in forming UNIX International, a multivendor consortium that worked to understand customer needs in more formal processes. Baccash's group was responsible for writing the specifications for the major releases of UNIX System V, from release 2 through release 4.2 and UNIXWare, a product of USL and Novell.

"For a number of years, I managed some groups creating specific features-things like security," Baccash says. "I was very heavily involved in the work we did for the National Computer Security Center in putting security into the UNIX release that went out in 1993." By 1989 she had taken over all systems engineering for UNIX, defining all new features, including networking, kernel features, and the command-level user interface.

During that period, Baccash's involvement with consortia such as UNIX International began to lead her toward open systems unification efforts. Her groups had responsibility for working with POSIX, X/Open, and in other standards development efforts. She was USL's representative to the UNIX International Steering Committee. In 1992 she was named to manage strategic planning for all USL products, including network and system management, and the Tuxedo transaction processing monitor.

UNIX Unification

In 1993, the year that Novell bought USL, Baccash spent a large part of her time in UNIX unification efforts. She led Novell's contribution to the multivendor group that defined the Spec 1170 agreement on common application programming interfaces (APIs). Hewlett-Packard, Novell, IBM, Sun, and the Open Software Foundation (OSF) were also a part of that effort. She also led Novell's transfer of the UNIX trademark to X/Open and was the company's representative to the OSF reorganization committee, helping draft OSF's new charter, its closer relationship with X/Open, and the new Pre-structured Technology process.

The Spec 1170 agreement came about because of increasing frustration among users and independent software vendors (ISVs) over the many varieties of UNIX, no one of which dominated the others. Applications had to be written in several versions and rewritten for each new release of AIX, HP-UX, SVR4, Solaris and any other vendor's UNIX that the application targeted. "There was a general belief that the POSIX standard was not enough," Baccash says. "It was good but it was too minimal and application developers use more than the POSIX standard. So I believe there had been some work started by HP and IBM, looking at some areas of commonality. They invited Sun and Novell to participate. Because everybody had differing views, we tried to define what our common objectives were. We wanted a minimal definition that everybody could meet-a definition for a common set of operating system interfaces. We wanted a set that was minimal but sufficient to meet the needs of application developers."

Beginning in the spring of 1993, the group put its criteria together. The set of common APIs had to be POSIX-compliant. It had to conform to the X/Open Portability Guide (XPG3 and XPG4) as well as certain de facto standards-the System V Interface Definition (SVID), level 1, and OSF's Application Environment Specification (AES). "We said that to include what application developers were writing to, we need to include those things. That's the kind of minimal set that meets our commitment to our customers." Then another group of interfaces was added, selected from the top 75 to 100 UNIX applications. "They ran the gamut from data management, word processing, to every conceivable kind of application that was out there. We ran a tool to see what interfaces they were using." The additional interfaces needed to support those applications brought the total number to 1,170 interfaces, a number that gave Spec 1170 its name.

"I don't want to make it seem like a simple task," Baccash says. "There were incompatibilities. It was an intense several-month effort with a lot of very, very long days. We were locked away for weeks on end, working through the technical issues. We used UI and OSF to send the document out to all their members. Then we identified ISVs, OEMs and end users, and got their comments. We spent weeks reviewing the comments and incorporating the comments into the spec."

Although she sees Spec 1170 as a huge step, Baccash says it won't be the last. "This was an operating system specification allowing vendors to say that it doesn't make sense to compete at this [operating system] level anymore, but to agree on a common set of interfaces. Over time, the bar will be raised. Things will continue to be added to it. Five years ago, we couldn't have agreed on this, and I think that in the next five years we will see a need for agreement on things like networking, perhaps database management and certainly end-user interfaces. The bar will continue to be raised, driven by the application developers and the end users, who should be driving it. And if they see a need for commonality, then the vendors have a responsibility to work together to provide that and stop competing with each other in those spaces. I think system management is another area where more needs to be looked at, and I think that will happen."

The transfer of the UNIX brand to X/Open also was a major step, Baccash points out. "It was important for the unification of the industry to give over that trademark to a neutral body, so that it wasn't driven or controlled by Novell or any of the other major companies," she says. "There was a belief on the part of Novell and the other companies that UNIX was the name you wanted to call it. UNIX was what the industry knew as that open operating system. They wanted to have X/Open be the administrator and grant the trademark to companies that are Spec 1170 compliant. We also wanted to make sure that the trademark meant something, that it was protected."

Back to AT&T

Last January, Baccash left Novell and took a new job with AT&T Global Information Solutions (formerly NCR). There, she did strategic planning for the network products division. Last April she was promoted to assistant vice president of the network and systems management business unit. Now she has responsibility for strategic and product planning, architecture, development and product management, and deployment for the company's network and systems management products. "One of the things that I've been involved in is our new One Vision network and system management strategy, which was announced at the end of June," she says. "All of the AT&T entities are coming together and agreeing on a common network management platform, namely HP OpenView, with some technology coming in over time from NetLabs and from AT&T."

As a UniForum director, she's concerned that UniForum focus on its role as an information resource to members, "to help make some sanity out of this confusion about open systems, what it is, and what it means in various dimensions. It is a very confusing mess that we have presented to the end users, our customers out there. UniForum can provide an impartial kind of neutral view of products, technologies, directions, standards-that whole gamut."