Editorial by Michael Dortch
Who now speaks for the UNIX System user?
An organization called UUX (for "UnixWare Users eXchange") has folded its tent and slipped quietly away. Dan Busarow and Evan Leibovitch, the stalwart users, consultants and resellers primarily responsible for sustaining the group (and later, the e-mail exchanges which replaced physical group meetings), just can't do it alone, and Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), current owners of UnixWare, can't seem to make a business case for a UnixWare users group.
Last year, UTG Inc. (formerly "UnixWare Technology Group, Inc."), my former employer and a trade association of vendors supporting Novell, Inc.'s UnixWare, was dissolved. Santa Cruz Operation, Inc. (SCO), which purchased the rights to the "original" UNIX System V code and related intellectual property from Novell, simply couldn't make a strong enough business case for supporting UTG as an independent organization, and evolved it into the UNIX Computing Forum, an operation internal to SCO.
So UnixWare users, vendors and resellers find themselves without a clear, strong, dedicated, industry-wide, independent voice of support. This at a time when UnixWare support is relatively strong among UNIX System vendors, and SCO has just announced a new release of the operating system optimized for Internet and intranet use. Make no mistake -- UnixWare is a real, enterprise-ready computing environment. It combines the proven legacy of the UNIX System with support for state-of-the-art high-performance commodity hardware. It has real support from serious system and software vendors -- a lot of the same vendors helping make Microsoft Windows NT so successful. And yet, like Rodney Dangerfield, it still "can't get no respect." So, what's a UnixWare fan, let alone someone trying to run their business or those of their clients on UnixWare, to do?
Well, some abandon UnixWare in favor of some other UNIX System implementation. The offerings most recently gaining market share at UnixWare's expense are those based on Linux, even though few if any commercial Linux vendors have the enterprise track record of the vendors behind UnixWare.
Some abandon UnixWare for Windows NT. This requires abandoning entire skill sets, resource sets and months to years of history and experience, and in some cases requires significant sacrifices regarding performance and enterprise-wide interoperability, yet some do it anyway. Apparently, these companies just couldn't sustain their confidence in broad and deep industry support for UnixWare -- something any product destined for the enterprise must offer users, resellers and developers if that product is to succeed.
Some, however, remain steadfastly loyal to UnixWare. In a lot of environments and applications, it simply can't be beat. Remember, there are still a lot of COBOL, DOS and assembly-language programs running critical applications -- because they work and work well. UnixWare is like that, albeit on a sadly smaller scale, given its years of potential.
Larger organizations can join The Open Group, and many have derived benefit from that august body (formed from the union of the Open Software Foundation and X/Open Co. Ltd.). But how many really have that kind of money? And when they do, where will UnixWare be in their hierarchical lists of priorities? I've worked with companies where five to 10 times the resources were being devoted to Windows NT as were being devoted to UNIX System solutions generally, let alone UnixWare specifically.
So what's to happen? I think UniForum and its members may represent the last, best hope for UnixWare and UNIX System solutions in general. UniForum, after all, traces its roots directly back to many of the same sources as UnixWare and the UNIX System itself. And it's a lot more practical and affordable to join and work with UniForum and its members. And UniForum's constituencies have the most to lose, should UnixWare and other worthy alternatives and complements to offerings from Microsoft and others ultimately fail in the marketplace.
In a perfect world (or marketplace), products would succeed or fail in direct proportion to their merits. But it's neither a perfect world nor a perfect marketplace, and without consistent, broad and deep support by their adherents, a lot of good products can and do fall by the wayside. Enterprise computing's too important to leave to any one vendor or small handful of solutions, especially when worthy alternatives are already out there succeeding.
UniForum members, with UnixWare supporters lurking among them, would do well to invite those folks into the open, the better to use UniForum's strengths to join forces where it makes sense -- with one another, and with those committed to other environments. UniForum would benefit from the voices and enthusiasm evident in the UnixWare community. UnixWare would benefit from increased awareness and, if it deserves it, increased industry support. And the industry would benefit because there'd be one more serious competitor keeping everyone in the high-stakes enterprise computing market just that much more on their oh-so-competitive toes.
Michael Dortch is former Vice President and Chief Evangelist for UTG, and former Director of Special Projects for CMP Media's NetGuide Magazine. To subscribe to his free "Information Superhighway Vista Points" newsletter or respond to this column, feel free to e-mail Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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