May 21st, 1998


UniForum Association Conference Hosts an Historic Meeting of the Minds Between the Linux Advocates and Unix Branding Organization

Columbia, MD - An amazing thing happened at the UniForum Association's 1998 Spring Conference in Ocean City, MD. During the unveiling of The Open Group's UNIX 98 specification to an audience that included leading Open Source advocates, members of the two groups spontaneously initiated frank, informal negotiations regarding the conformance of Linux to the UNIX 98 spec.

Starting at 10 am on Wednesday, May 21st, The Open Group's Director of Branding Graham Bird, Chief Technical Officer Mike Lambert, and others began detailing UNIX 98 to workshop attendees. In the audience was Eric Raymond, an outspoken Linux advocate whose paper, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", was influential in Netscape's recent decision to take make the source code for their Communicator product suite available to the general public. About halfway into the workshop, after asking a number of detailed technical questions, Raymond asked the big one: What's it going to take to get the UNIX 98 brand for Linux?

Graham Bird quickly responded that The Open Group very much wants to see Linux get the UNIX 98 brand. A far-ranging discussion ensued, with both sides agreeing that high-end Unix server vendors will suffer if the low-end server market is lost to Windows NT. Additionally, if ISVs face an increasing base of clients with NT platforms, it's reasonable to expect that they'll consider ports to Unix a lower priority, and the number of commercial applications available on Unix platforms could dwindle. Since the Linux OS is proving to be increasingly stiff competition for NT in this marketspace, it's in the best interest of all Unix vendors for Linux to get branded so that it may compete more effectively and keep the low end UNIX 98-compliant.

The two groups parted with affirmations to continue the dialogue and try to find a way to brand Linux.

It's going to take some creativity to pull this off. In order to carry the Unix brand, an OS must purchase and pass rigorous testing suites provided by The Open Group, and must also pay licensing and royalty fees. Furthermore, The Open Group holds each branded vendor individually responsible for continuing to conform to the UNIX 98 spec. Since Linux is developed and maintained by a large, loose-knit community of volunteer developers over the Internet, it has no "vendor" in the traditional sense. A number of companies package Linux, with varying combinations of support, manuals, and proprietary software.

The popularity of Linux has significantly increased in recent years, as it has matured and become easier to install; most Linux users have found that the mutual-aid forums on the Internet meet their support needs. Available on a number of platforms, it's proven to be most popular on inexpensive Intel-based PCs. Although some IS managers apparently hesitate to commit to a platform with no large corporation standing behind it, Linux has been showing up in some surprising places. Furniture maker Ikea has deployed Linux throughout its European offices, and a parallel-processing network of over 100 Linux boxes was used to do graphical rendering for the movie, "Titanic." NASA has been using similar arrays for years, and Fermi Lab is reportedly planning to build a much larger "supercomputer" in the near future.

Linux developers employ an intriguing method of software development: release early source code publicly, and use thousands of Internet-based volunteers to help test it and propose bug fixes and new features. This methodology, known as "Open Source," results in remarkably fast release cycles, which have produced a robust OS from scratch in just a few years. Although it is just now becoming widely acknowledged, development methods like Open Source have been in use for decades; for example, over one million Internet servers on the net today serving web pages with Apache, software that has been developed across the net with source code available for free.

Earlier this year, Eric Raymond detailed the Open Source methodology in his paper, arguing that it's a superior way to write software. His paper found its way into the upper reaches of Netscape, where some employees had already been advocating the concept. Netscape subsequently decided to use the Open Source model for future releases of Communicator. Just last week, Corel Computer Corp. also announced that they will be releasing the source code of the Linux portion of their NetWinder OS for network computers. Eid Eid, President of Corel Computer Corp., gave a keynote speech at the UniForum conference on Tuesday, May 19th.

The freely available Linux OS is technically not Unix, and is properly described as a Unix-like OS. Since there is no central point of distribution, its installed base is particularly difficult to estimate. Bob Young of Red Hat Software, which packages and supports a Linux distribution, gives a very rough estimate of 5-10 million.

For further information, contact Alan Fedder, President of the UniForum Association, at: (410) 715-9500; or via email at