Unix took another step closer to consolidation last week when IBM allied with the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) around a single Unix for Intel's 64-bit Merced chip when it ships in the year 2000 (see PC Week, 27 October).
However, with nearly two years to go, the question is whether this is just another round of musical chairs?
The initiative will result in a unified Unix, codenamed Monterey, which will be centred around the kernel of AIX but will adopt the "little endian" configuration of the Intel-based UnixWare.
Monterey will eventually become the successor to AIX and UnixWare but IBM has committed to support AIX 4.3 on PowerPC until 2001 and UnixWare 7 will live as long as IA-32 does, which Ray Anderson, vice president of marketing at SCO, estimates will be "bloody ages plus two years".
The rights to Monterey will be held jointly by SCO and IBM but there is a third contributor, Sequent, which has expertise in the high end of the Unix on Intel market, including the NUMA multiprocessing technology.
Sequent now claims that Monterey will be its strategic Unix language but neither Sequent, nor its development partner, Compaq/Digital, could confirm that this marks the end of their joint participation in the "Bravo" project, where Sequent engineers are assisting Compaq in preparing Digital Unix for IA-64.
"It is both disappointing, if Sequent has indeed jumped ship, and embarrassing for the consortium we were building but it is not a set back," said Ian Steven, software product marketing manager for enterprise computing at Compaq.
Compaq claims to be talking to five possible partners for its consortium so there are clearly some vendors of uncertain allegiance, bearing in mind that there are only two vendors, Data General and Silicon Graphics, not yet committed to supporting HP-UX, AIX, Sun Solaris or Digital Unix.
"There's a game of musical chairs going on here, and the music won't stop until six months before Merced ships," Steven said.
ICL and Unisys have both welcomed the alliance which will secure the survival of SCO, their strategic Unix platform. "SCO was clearly at risk if it did not ally with a power player like IBM," said Phil Millard, director of server development at Unisys.
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