Column: SCO leading Unix fightback against NT

Windows NT is making its greatest inroads against low-end application server turf traditionally held by SCO Unix.

Several months ago I wrote about Microsoft Windows NT making inroads into traditional Unix territory--the application server market--albeit at the low end. In April this year market research company IDC predicted Windows NT Server will overtake Unix in total server sales this year. According to IDC New Zealand manager Graham Penn, this forecast is holding true, although NT is going on the cheaper and smaller platforms, he says.

But Unix has been around for a long time and the Unix vendors aren’t about to take this lying down. Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), the leading manufacturer of Unix on the Intel platform (and the company most vulnerable to Windows NT’s advancement), has taken the first step in fighting back.

SCO has announced that mid-1997 it will deliver its new operating system, Gemini, a consolidation of its SCO OpenServer and SCO UnixWare (based on the Unix System V, release 4.2 Unix kernel which it acquired from Novell last year).

Gemini will be the precursor of Gemini 64, the first 64-bit SCO operating system that will incorporate technology from the joint SCO and Hewlett-Packard next-generation Unix project. SCO plans to deliver Gemini 64 concurrent with the availability of the Intel Merced chip.

Both SCO and HP want to present a bigger “target” for independent software vendors (ISVs) to write Unix applications on Intel, since so far only SCO has managed to turn Unix-on-Intel into a highly profitable market.

Analysts believe this is a pragmatic move for HP, but that the success will depend entirely on the smoothness of migration for HP-Unix end-users to the new Intel platform. For SCO, this convergence of operating systems means that it will have a bigger market--and the opportunity to move into large enterprise servers as it competes head-on with Windows NT.

Greg Greeley, SCO’s regional general manager for Australia and New Zealand, says the initial release of Gemini next year is extremely important to the company’s partners and customers.

“By getting on the Gemini track as early as possible, customers are assured an easy path to next-generation 64-bit platforms. SCO OpenServer and SCO UnixWare will get periodic updates before and after the inaugural release of Gemini. This will give our customers and channel partners time to make the transition when the time is right for them.”

SCO has three stages to its roll-out of Gemini 64. The first is the distribution of Gemini development tools to independent software vendors (ISVs). At SCO Forum96 in August, SCO released limited quantities of an alpha release of a Gemini developers kit comprising the Gemini software development kit (SDK), hardware development kit (HDK) and Java development kit (JDK).

The Gemini SDK and JDK provide a common development environment to produce applications today that will run on both SCO OpenServer and SCO UnixWare operating systems. The aim is to have developers preparing applications to be Gemini-ready and design new applications for Gemini. The Gemini HDS will enable ISVs to begin developing and testing their drivers for the Gemini platform. A broader distribution of the beta versions of the Gemini SDK and operating system is planned for release in the first half of 1997.

The next stage is the release of Gemini itself. In addition to being the successor of SCO OpenServer and SCO Unixware, Gemini will feature automated configuration, remote-control management, integrated Internet services, clustering, fail-over, auto backup/restore, mirroring and hot swap and embedded ccNUMA.

By the end of the year SCO and HP are expected to publish the common API specification for Gemini 64, being developed for the Intel Merced processor. This API specification is a superset of the Gemini specification and will include 64-bit extensions. SCO says developers who target Gemini will be assured they have an easy path to Gemini 64.

(Malcolm is Computerworld’s networking editor. Email her at andrea_malcolm@idg.com.)

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