In an unpublished paper written in 1988 for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the noted minicomputer pioneer Gordon Bell said this of the just-formed Open Software Foundation, which included IBM, HP, DEC and others allied against the AT&T/Sun partnership: "OSF is a way for the Unix have-nots to get into the evolving market, while maintaining their high-margin code museums.'"
The Unix wars failed to settle differences or set a true standard for the operating system. But in 1993, the Unix community received a wakeup call from Microsoft in the form of Windows NT, an enterprise-class, 32-bit multiprocessing operating system. The proprietary NT was aimed squarely at Unix and was intended to extend Microsoft's desktop hegemony to the data center and other places owned by the likes of Sun servers.
Microsoft users applauded. Unix vendors panicked. All the major Unix rivals united in an initiative called the Common Open Software Environment, and the following year more or less laid down their arms by merging the AT&T/Sun-backed Unix International group with the Open Software Foundation. That coalition evolved into today's The Open Group, certifier of Unix systems and owner of the Single Unix Specification, now the official definition of "Unix."
As a practical matter, these developments may have "standardized" Unix about as much as possible, given the competitive habits of vendors. But they may have come too late to stem a flood tide called Linux, the open-source operating system that grew out of Prof. Tanenbaum's Minix.
The future of Unix
The continued lack of complete portability across competing versions of Unix, as well as the cost advantage of Linux and Windows on x86 commodity processors, will prompt IT organizations to migrate away from Unix, suggests a recent poll by Gartner Group.
"The results reaffirm continued enthusiasm for Linux as a host server platform, with Windows similarly growing and Unix set for a long, but gradual, decline," says the poll report, published in February 2009.
"Unix has had a long and lively past, and while it's not going away, it will increasingly be under pressure," says Gartner analyst George Weiss. "Linux is the strategic 'Unix' of choice." Although Linux doesn't have the long legacy of development, tuning and stress-testing that Unix has seen, it is approaching and will soon equal Unix in performance, reliability and scalability, he says.
But a recent survey by Computerworld suggests that any migration away from Unix won't happen quickly. In the survey of 130 Unix users among 211 IT managers, 90 percent said their companies were "very or extremely reliant" on Unix. Slightly more than half said, "Unix is an essential platform for us and will remain so indefinitely," and just 12 percent said, "We expect to migrate away from Unix in the future." Cost savings, primarily via server consolidation, was cited as the number one reason for migrating away.