The future of several technologies from the Open Group, which are vital to the future of commercial and open Unix, are in jeopardy, as the standards body reaches crisis point.
The group this week announced that it will lay off all but a handful of staff and will tout its technologies around the market, a process that started last year. Many observers believe the body is, in effect, shutting up shop.
The threatened technologies include the X Window System, Motif (the graphical user interface used by more than 200 platforms, especially in Unix), Common Desktop Environment, and CTL (Complex Text Layout for certain non-Latin alphabets).
Around a quarter of the Open Group's staff, mostly those based developing these technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been laid off. Of the remaining 190 or so staff, 70 who work in the Open Group Research Institute will either be transferred to a new owner of the Institute, or it will be closed.
The suspicion is that Joseph de Feo, the former Barclays Bank IT director who heads up the Open Group, wants the organisation to stop developing technologies, and play a more political role.
The Open Group is a not-for-profit membership body that resulted from the 1996 merger of two Unix standards outfits, the Cambridge, Massachusetts based Open Software Foundation (OSF), and the Reading, UK based X/Open Consortium. The differing cultures have not mixed well, the Open Group admits.
De Feo said last year that the Open Group was "in full discussion" with other standards groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium and Internet Engineering Taskforce and put forward a vision of producing standards to make the Internet governable and accessible to all. This was enshrined in his Dialtone strategy, but he has not been particularly active in developing this, some observers believe. Several of the insiders that spoke to 'VNU Newswire' considered the Dialtone to be a near-incomprehensible vision, shrouded in secrecy.
The Open Group says that the object of Dialtone is "to make IT infrastructure as trusted and easy to use as the telephone", suggesting that as "the Internet is currently an ill disciplined environment", the Dialtone "will produce a basic set of services that the Internet requires to function as a secure and reliable infrastructure."
> Last month, the Open Group said that Unix 98 with a network computer client and Internet server was the first deployment of the IT Dialtone Architecture - a rather grand name for a tacked-on client and server.
Last month, De Feo approved an internal memorandum to staff, which 'VNU Newswire' has seen, saying that "The Open Group continues to go from strength to strength as its IT Dialtone mission has increased business focus and market relevance. The company's mission has changed and it has to evolve its own structure and processes to match this ... It is no surprise that the ways of delivering ... services, including a research and development function, are being reviewed."
For more on the Open Group, see analysis section.
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