Novell Seeks Help To Develop Unix

Talks are underway with major vendors about sharing development of Unix System 4.2

John Foley, Editor, InformationWeek

June 12, 2003

3 Min Read

After struggling for two years as the owner and developer of the Unix operating system, Novell is looking for a way out.

Novell is talking to major Unix vendors about sharing development of Unix System V release 4.2, which the company acquired from AT&T along with AT&T's Unix System Laboratories in 1993, according to a source close to Novell. The networking giant has been selling its own Unix implementation, UnixWare, with limited success. "Clearly Novell has come do a decision that it does not want to develop Unix alone," says the source. "Novell is working on a way to pass the baton." Novell is expected to announce its plans at the Unix Expo trade show in New York on Sept. 19. Novell officials have declined to discuss their plans.

The move comes in the wake of a reorganization at Novell earlier this year in which the company's separate Unix and NetWare development teams were combined under one organization, the operating systems division (IW, July 3, p. 28). Richard King, formerly with the NetWare side of the company, heads the division as executive VP and general manager. Mike DeFazio, formerly executive VP of the UnixWare group, serves as senior VP of development.

As of Sept. 6, no firm decisions had been made, according to the source. However, several scenarios reportedly are under consideration. Novell is talking to Hewlett-Packard about assuming some responsibility for Unix development. HP was a major player in the Unix industry's agreement last month to develop a standard 64-bit applications programming interface for different flavors of Unix (IW, Aug. 28, p. 22). HP and Intel are partnering on a next-generation chip, the P7, that could run a 64-bit Unix.

Another possibility is for the Open Software Foundation or a similar industry group to coordinate Unix development. A third option is forming a new corporation jointly funded by Unix vendors. "Before Novell bought Unix, HP, IBM, Digital, and Sun all wanted to joint-venture in some fashion. That could still work," says the source.

However, a number of major Unix suppliers say they have not been involved in discussions with Novell to jointly develop Unix. "I haven't had any indicators that Novell is backing out of its Unix work," says Donna Van Fleet, VP of AIX systems development for IBM's RS/6000 division in Austin, Texas. IBM pays royalties to Novell for use of some of the Unix source code in IBM's AIX operating system. Similarly, a spokesman for Digital Equipment denies that his company is involved in joint-development discussions with Novell.

If Unix vendors do agree to assume responsibility for Novell's Unix, the foundation has already been laid for that type of cooperation. Novell, HP, IBM, and Sun have worked together to create two industry standards: the "single Unix specification," a set of applications programming interfaces; and the Common Desktop Environment, a graphical interface for Unix desktops.

Novell has previously described a plan to combine its two operating systems into a single system, code-named SuperNOS. The plan could move forward unchanged, with Novell simply sharing or turning over Unix development to other partners. Novell plans to update its SuperNOS strategy this month.

Novell is a supplier of Unix operating systems to major computer companies around the world, including ICL, Olivetti, and Fujitsu. A decision to off-load Unix development could be viewed as a Novell failure and as further evidence that the Unix industry is too fragmented to compete effectively against Microsoft.

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About the Author(s)

John Foley

Editor, InformationWeek

John Foley is director, strategic communications, for Oracle Corp. and a former editor of InformationWeek Government.

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