Experts Look Back and to the Future

Industry panel assesses the state of Unix product marketing efforts

The Jan. 14 session of the Software Forum/UniForum Unix Special Interest Group (SIG) featured a "change-of-pace" program, featuring a Unix product marketing panel. The panel offered its take on the high and low points for Unix in 1996 and some of the prospects for the industry, going forward. The session was held at Amdahl Corp.'s headquarters building in Sunnyvale, CA.

The panelists were Andrew Binstock, editor-in-chief of Unix Review; Phil Johnson, market research consultant; and Tom Mace, executive director of the UniForum Association. The panel addressed a variety of Unix product marketing issues, such as the ups and downs for Unix system providers in 1996; the successes (and less than successes) of the leading database vendors' strategies, and opportunities for Unix software vendors in 1997.

The Most and the Least
The first general question before the panel was who had done the most or the least for Unix in 1996. All three panelists agreed that the Internet movement had done the most for Unix during the year. Binstock instanced Sun and Java; Johnson, Netscape; and Mace, Java and the network computer. Mace also "praised" Bill Gates for recognizing Unix as a worthwhile competitive challenge, saying that 1996 was the year that he stopped ignoring Unix and took on the mission of competing with it. Johnson added that 1996 was the year that NT surpassed all flavors of Unix in number of units shipped, but not in dollars (Unix went from $34B in 1995 to $38B in 1996, with NT at about $7B).

On the least issue, Binstock said he was low on the performance and prospects of both Sybase and SGI, and Mace wished that he could see more "mindshare" agreement on the use of Unix servers in industry.

High Points, Low Points
For identifying the high points and low points of Unix system providers in 1996, Mace thought a high was reached with Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison sharing a stage on NC. For Mace, the low point was another lost opportunity for Unix to consolidate. Johnson thought that both SCO and Sun were major performers in 1996, with SCO having done a "great job" with UnixWare. saying that he believes that HP will have problems adapting to a lower profit margin model it will have to adopt to compete with Intel vendors like Compaq.

DBMS Vendors
On the success of DBMS vendor strategies, Binstock believes that the key to success is the smoothest integration of storage and retrieval facilities for both data and images, particularly for Internet serving. Mace noted that the database industry has shaken out to essentially two companies: Oracle and Informix. The other companies--including such big names as Unify, Ingress and Sybase--fell behind during the year.

Quo Vadis, NT?
The next question asked of the panel was how soon, in what ways and how successfully Windows NT will bite into the high-end Unix/RDBMS server business. The panelists agreed that Unix would retain the high-end server business and lose some of the low-end server side to NT. Binstock referenced a survey stating that of companies that are setting up NT servers, a majority are pilot projects, but added he thinks that in 1997-8 NT will strongly challenge the mainline Unix vendors, particularly where NT "butts up" against Unix, not where it actually replaces it.

Johnson portrayed the server business as three concentric circles of performance and scalability: NT is the smallest circle, Unix is the next circle, and IBM and other proprietary mainframes comprise the largest, outermost circle. Because all computer systems continue to get larger and faster with time, all three circles will get larger, but the distances and relative positions among them will persist.

Several members of the audience expressed unease about the possible scenario that all-Windows companies may be waiting for NT to become more scalable.

On the server issue, several members of the audience expressed unease about the possible scenario that all-Windows companies may be waiting for NT to become more scalable and, thus, more usable in the enterprise. Most agreed that intranet roles will continue to be good prospects for Unix systems. When Binstock asserted that in most companies a final purchase decision is based on performance (speed, availability, etc.) some audience members agreed and some doubted. Mace added that NT's enormous mindshare seems to give some purchasers a sense of security, in much the same way that IBM used to.

What to Look For
The final issue placed before the panelists was to identify Unix software product development opportunities that stand out for Software Forum and UniForum members. All three agreed that Java and Java-related products are excellent targets. Mace also pointed to the need for improvements in Unix fault tolerance and security, and for voice applications. Johnson brought up "knowbots" (knowledge agents/robots), for browser enhancement, and to 3270 emulation software that would speak the 3270 datastream but present the appearance of a browser.

The principal portion of the meeting ended with a couple of observations from Mace having to do with the Unix vs. NT issue. "Unix is excellence, as opposed to something that's 'coming.' Unix will experience a resurgence of mindshare when the shortcomings of NT become truly apparent."

Software Forum is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization dedicated to software professionals, with almost 1,000 members. Started in 1983, it informs and educates its members on all facets of the software industry. Software Forum sponsors 12 other SIGs, which meet once a month: Business Operations; C++; Delphi; Games & AR Developers; International; Internet; Java; Marketing; Multimedia; Visual Basic; VRML; and Windows. Call (415) 854-7219 for more information on the organization.

For further information, go to

Back | Table of Contents | Next