Enterprise Unix Roundup: Reading Unix Tea Leaves

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jan 3, 2007

Brian Proffitt
With the events of 2006 confined to history, has the groundwork been laid for 2007 to be the "Year of Deals" or the "Year *nix Died"?

Rolling into the office, dazed, after a flurry of holidays marking the end of the Western calendar, it befalls pundits this time of the year to look back at the past and figure out what the heck just happened. I intend to honor that glorious tradition, as well as briefly peek into the crystal ball to see what's coming up.

At the beginning of 2006, the IT world was all a-twitter about the new draft of Linux' license, the GNU GPL 3. The license, which intends to prevent the use of DRM by free software as well as prevent patent interventions, is still getting a lot of attention as 2007 rolls in. All the more so because in November, when Novell announced its deal with the De — er, Microsoft — the authors of the new version of the GPL decided to further tweak the text of the license to prevent the kinds of patent protections Novell and Microsoft were touting as part of their collaboration.

One way or another, the license is scheduled to be finished in early 2007. Unix users will not be affected, but as various segments of the open source community adopt the license, it will have long-term ramifications on the server market. Although several open source projects are pledging to shift to GPL 3, one notable project, the Linux kernel, will not make the move, according to Linus Torvalds. Curiously, throughout 2006 Sun Microsystems mumbled that GPL 3 was not beyond the realm of possibility for OpenSolaris.

OpenSolaris and Solaris 10 received much press early in the year, notably at the Open Source Business Conference in February, but things got quiet for Sun's favorite operating system as the year progressed. This, despite a back-handed call from then-President and COO Jonathan Schwartz to merge HP-UX and Solaris — a call that left HP unamused. Perhaps the biggest news from Sun in 2006 was the departure of Scott McNealy. In April, Chairman and CEO McNealy handed over the CEO reins to none other than Schwartz.

Interestingly, things out of Sun eventually got more focused and quieter. Coincidence? Yeah, sure, we'll go with that.

Other Unix flavors held their collective ground as best they could in 2006, with almost every analyst outfit reporting fewer Unix installations. Oddly, though, many of those same reports were indicating that most of these migrations going to Windows, and not Linux.

Still, several vendors announced support for HP-UX, OpenBSD and PC-BSD throughout the year, an indication that there's still life in the Unix market yet.

Integration may well receive as much buzz in 2007 as virtualization received in 2006, and it is something customers with heterogeneous environments most definitely need.

Not every Unix made it through the year, though. In September, SGI sounded the death knell for IRIX on the MIPS platform. By the end of 2006, all production on IRIX ceased, and in March of this year, SGI will no longer take orders for the product.

Now that the end of the year has passed, it is hard not to pose the larger question: Is this simply going to be the way of things for proprietary Unix operating systems that try to go head-to-head with Linux and Windows? Is Solaris, HP-UX or AIX next?

Well, AIX has a big user base. IBM is a powerful support entity, and it could balance AIX and Linux sales. Sun may have saved Solaris by making it open source, assuring it will survive in some fashion in the years to come. As for HP-UX, there you have a problem. Squeezed by AIX and Linux, HP-UX could be in the most danger of getting the axe.

But HP has no intentions of going quietly. Just last month, it announced a big release of HP-UX 11i, a mere few months before the planned major release of 11i v3, which promises to add HP-UX to the Unix 03 specification and standards club, along with rivals IBM's AIX 5L and Sun's Solaris 10.

Looking into the crystal ball, though, it is apparent that one event in 2007 may ultimately show the Unix vendors the way to hang on in the IT shops out there. Specifically, the aforementioned Novell-Microsoft partnership.

If Sun, HP, or IBM decided to enter a similar partnership with Redmond, it would create a climate of integration between Windows and the respective Unix flavor. Integration may well receive as much buzz in 2007 as virtualization received in 2006, and it is something customers with heterogeneous environments most definitely need. True, such a partnership would mean giving a measure of control to rival Microsoft, but pragmatists inside these Unix vendors may see that as a fair trade-off.

Will 2007 be the Year of the Deals? Vendors might prefer that to the "Year <Insert Unix Here> Died."

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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