By Dick Shippee
Unix Expo rang down its curtain off-Broadway last week, ending a long and successful run as a major marketplace for Unix systems and software, and an East Coast venue where Unix hands new and old could meet to make or renew acquaintances. Next year the show will be folded into a new event called IT Forum, which will include DB Expo and a new Windows NT event. It is strongly rumored that by next year the show-whatever its composition-will have a new owner as well.
Even this year Unix Expo had a lame-duck feel, as it tried to be several things at once. The show was officially named Unix Expo Plus, with Plus meaning NT and Internet components in the conference sessions and on the show floor. While final attendance numbers are not yet available, veteran observers put exhibit traffic at around 15,000 over the three days. Not helping attendance was an opening-day downpour as Tropical Storm Josephine flooded New York City.
"More striking was the effort to recognize Unix and NT systems as complementary parts of the enterprise environment."
Change, welcome or not, was apparent all over the expo. Of course, it is natural to have Internet-related conference sessions and products in a Unix show; the Net was built mainly to support Unix-based systems. More striking was the effort to recognize Unix and NT systems as complementary parts of the enterprise environment, rather than either/or choices. The adversary position was articulated by Tuesday's keynote speaker, Ed Zander, president of Sun Microsystems. He reasserted the Sun message that holding off the Microsoft monopoly is in everyone's best interests.
Wednesday saw a Unix Expo "plus," as Microsoft chairman Bill Gates spoke to a packed house. Some observers characterized his appearance as a classic Trojan Horse maneuver; others as a timely and statesman-like address; still others as a Microsoft commercial clothed as an approach to the Unix community. In truth, all three opinions hold water, as Gates did pitch Microsoft products while touching on such issues as Microsoft's support for standardization efforts (in particular those recently undertaken by The Open Group on behalf of Microsoft's ActiveX), as well as commentary about how Windows NT is "closer to being Unix than you think"-a reference to the fact that Open Group branding for NT Unix is not far away.
More than a few people observed that the coincidence of Bill Gates appearing at the last Unix Expo show was prescient, and they noted both poignancy and a sense of catching up with reality.
The final keynote, delivered by Alok Mohan, CEO of SCO, was a counterpoint to Gates' speech. Mohan has spoken this past year at numerous events (including UniForum '96). His message has been a consistent one: Unix is the flexible, mission-critical platform for the enterprise. He touts Unix as the only smart choice for those seeking scalable, secure, reliable systems for their companies. Mohan spent considerable time (as had Gates and Zander) on the role of the Internet, making the case that it was here that the battleground for the enterprise will be fought and that Unix will emerge as the champion.
"The paradox is that, while the Unix industry continues to grow at double-digit rates, the concept of a general-purpose Unix trade show seems to excite fewer and fewer people."
The end of Unix Expo is of interest to UniForum as the association looks to its annual trade show and conference next March. It is no secret that attendance and exhibitor participation have dropped at both Unix Expo and UniForum over the past two years. Reasons for this decline are varied but center around the reality that Unix is a mature, established technology that does not project the sense of cutting-edge newness that drives all trade shows. The paradox is that, while the Unix industry continues to grow at double-digit rates, the concept of a general-purpose Unix trade show seems to excite fewer and fewer people.
UniForum '97 faces an audience base that is familiar with Unix but which needs practical information about platform integration, networked computing and workable solutions involving applications of all sorts. UniForum intends to answer these challenges with a conference program loaded with topics on enterprise solutions, together with workshops on Windows NT and extranets; with tutorials on security and the Web; and with a unique symposium on the latest research being done on technologies like Java. It is planning an exhibit floor that breaks the rules-where key anchor exhibits, sponsored by major vendors, will feature the most important technologies available to buyers of advanced systems, including Unix, Windows NT, network computers and objects. These anchor sites will all have interoperability centers demonstrating application portability.
Perhaps the advent of a true multiple operating system environment in the enterprise is exactly what the Unix industry needed. This challenge forces vendors, as well as the UniForum Association, to become more flexible and more aggressive. It's a tonic of sorts, one taken not a moment too soon.
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