The Grudge Match – NT vs. Unix
Anyone who regularly reads this column knows l have spent much of the past year calling on the UNIX community to pay serious attention to desktop UNIX. Not only have lexhorted vendors to develop small, friendly, shrink-wrapped versions of UNIX, but I have discussed at length the market effects on companies such as Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), if UNIX does or does not meet the challenge.
The good news is that UNIX vendors have perceived the same need ldid and have understood that the desktop UNIX must look and feel a whole lot different than its predecessors. USL and Univel have made surprisingly giant strides in this direction. SCO, in its own way, has continued to improve its high-end product, ODT. What Sun is doing, other than standardizing on SVR4, is open to conjecture, but the Solaris’s portability to Intel systems shows an appreciation of this platform.
For 1992, UNIX’s understanding of the strategic importance of the desktop rates very good. The next question is: Can UNIX market its wares?
The marketing arena is critical. Here, the main opponent is Microsoft and its vast marketing resources. For example, the recent UNIX Expo in New York had more vendors and more attendees than ever. The mood was by and large upbeat. By all accounts, one would say that despite the recession, the UNIX community is thriving. Yet there was a malaise. Everyone was alarmed about Microsoft’s Windows NT. Its approaching footsteps could be heard.
In this issue, John Chisholm (see “Currents”) offers a series of reasons why NT is better technology than UNIX; he then opines that the competition with NT will benefit UNIX. I could not possibly disagree more. I do not believe NT is better (or even close), and lam most unconvinced that head-to-head competition will benefit UNIX.
Let’s examine technology. After months of saying the opposite, Microsoft has backed away from its claims that NT is multiuser. NT is not; it is multithreaded, however. (This means that NT’s threat to SCO-style sites is greatly lessened.) What networking will be built into NT, other than Microsoft’s less-than-successful LAN Manager, needs to be seen and tested. It certainly won’t have the blessing of archrival Novell nor the field testing of UNlX nets. Finally, Microsoft’s admission that it will not be fully compatible with existing MS-DOS and Windows applications means that even a smooth binary migration is not possible.
Add to this that NT will be validated by only six months of beta test (as opposed to years of testing for UNIX) and you start to see a product that looks fairly meek technologically. Ain’t no one in Redmond dragging users into the new age of operating systems.
As a result, it is difficult to believe that anyone would abandon UNIX systems to migrate to a manifestly less robust NT. Once the investment has been made in UNIX technology and the concept of open systems, abandoning it all for a closed, less technologically advanced solution makes little sense. NT will not change UNIX’s existing base.
What NT will do is divert potential customers from UNIX. Since UNIX, like all industries, needs new customers to survive, the threat of NT is that it will slow the growth of UNIX, just when UNIX really had begun to compete in the business arena. How much of a threat this is will be the topic of my column next month.