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Newsletter Section 5

Across the Pond

Microsoft agreement to develop UNIX

(Stephen Walli)

Softway Systems Inc an open systems technology company, has announced OpenNT for Microsoft Windows NT. The product line will enable Windows NT-based platforms and products to compete in traditional UNIX systems markets, US federal government procurements and European markets. Softway Systems is building this product line under a long term agreement with Microsoft Corporation.

The OpenNT product line provides full conformance with IEEE POSIX.1 and POSIX.2 specifications for Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. In the next 18 months, Softway Systems will release a series of products to provide complete branded XPG4 UNIX conformance for Windows NT.

A Series of add-on products due out from five-month-old start-up Softway Systems Inc. and dubbed OpenNT will make Windows NT Posix.2-compliant in short order and fully XPG4-compliant by mid 1997. At that time, Softway says NT will be UNIX95 brandable, meaning it complies with the famed three-year-old Spec 1170 that defines a UNIX operating system.

As of last week, the UNIX95 designation was claimed only by DEC and HP. X/Open, who oversees the brand, expects all the major UNIX companies to be UNIX95-branded by the end of the year. Posix.2 conformance is supposed to be available to NT-on-Intel by 31 March, days before the FIPS 189 mandate goes into effect on 3 April, requiring that all operating systems procured by the US federal government, the single largest IT consumer in the world, comply with both Posix.1 and Posix.2 standards.

NT is currently only Posix.1-compliant - and then only just - and Microsoft has given no indication it would add Posix.2. In fact it has been obvious that Redmond does not want to be seen building products that conform to UNIX standards. This situation may have raised false hopes among the UNIX fraternity that NT would not compete for the fortune in government and end-user contracts in Europe and the US that demand more than the highly rudimentary Posix.1 compliance NT currently provides. Rather than do it itself, Microsoft has effectively subcontracted development and marketing to Softway, giving it access to NT source code for integration purposes. Microsoft is not believed to have another deal like it.

Microsoft only added the optional Posix.1 subsystem to NT to squeak by government requirements. Critics charge that it is not even functional and doesn't meet the Posix.1 spec. That is why such a hullabaloo continues to be raised over UNIX' loss of the $187 million Coast Guard Standard III contract appeal last year and the simultaneous court decision that NT is "open" (CSN No 107). Softway's technology, however, even according to an expert witness who appeared against NT at the Coast Guard hearings, will be the "real

Softway only has 10 people but several sister firms including Softway America Inc. and Softway SA in France, both currently UNIX distribution channels that will be turned to OpenNT's advantage. Softway Systems numbers among its folk R&D VP Stephen Walli, vice chairman of the Posix technical editing committee and author of X/Open's XPG UNIX95 guide. Also on board is chief scientist Jason Zions,
chairman of the IEEE Posix.lf committee and the Posix project management committee. He was once vice-chairman of the X/Open networking committee.

Softway's first product, one of three, will be OpenNT Commands and Utilities 1.0, a character-based UNIX-like shell conforming to the Posix.2 Execution Environment Utilities standard and providing those old UNIX favorites awk and grep among its repertoire. It will add new functionality to NT by providing support for file links, file and group ownership and protection, filename case-sensitivity and background processing. It will cost $199 ($99 to start) and supply mandatory Posix compliance.

Further iterations of this program - releases 2.0 and 3.0 - will provide the optional Posix.2 User Portability Extension Utilities and XPG4 Commands and Utilities v2 respectively. Softway says it will replace the existing Posix.1 subsystem with one that is more functional including features such as
enhanced tty semantics which is missing from what Redmond wrote.

Where critics charge there is no integration now, Softway says there will be better integration between the Win32 and Posix subsystems, with its optional Posix.2 facilities like fully networked talk, a graphical man utility and a cron daemon.

Softway's second product, due in July or August, will be a $99 SDK for porting standards-based UNIX applications across to NT as NT binaries, retaining their UNIX characteristics. It will ultimately include all system services and libraries, commands and utilities, DLLs, networking interfaces such as sockets and XTI and curses on character graphics interfaces. The SDK, which will represent a challenge for products like DataFocus' far pricier UNIX-to-NT NuTcracker, should be useable for developing applications that are portable across FIPS 151-2 (POSIX.1) and XPG4 Base branded platforms. In November or December, Softway expects to provide NT with a $99 X11R6 environment, a $199 X Windows server and a $149 Motif environment, all gathered under the product name OpenNT X11/Motif.

X11 and Motif applications will run in windows on NT, according to Softway CEO Doug Miller, former head of European operations for both UNIX maven Interactive Systems Inc. and then SunSoft which acquired it. The add-ons will allow UNIX initiates to run their favorite utilities and recycle many a mission critical application. The third release of OpenNT Commands and Utilities combined with the second release of the SDK will constitute a platform capable of being branded as XPG4 UNIX95. The start-up has licensed the X/Open VSC Test Suite to verify absolute "Open Systems" conformance and will persue NIST FIPS 189 certification and X/Open branding, it says. Softway's initial focus will be on NT for Intel machines but it expects to port its products to the RISC platforms in time. The company is expecting considerable OEM interest which is natural enough considering
X/Open currently puts the value of the procurements requiring the X/Open brand at $14.4 billion.

The Second USENIX Workshop on Electronic Commerce

18 - 20 November 1996
Oakland, California

Announcement and Call for Papers

The Second USENIX Workshop on Electronic Commerce will provide a major opportunity for researchers, experimenters, and practitioners in this rapidly self-defining field to exchange ideas and present results of their work. This meeting will set the technical agenda for work in the area of Electronic Commerce by examining urgent questions, discovering directions in which answers might be pursued, and revealing cross-connections that otherwise might go unnoticed.

The Workshop will begin with a day of tutorials. The program will offer a selection of tutorials from among several tracks on topics important to electronic commerce, such as cryptography and security. Two days of technical sessions will follow the tutorials. Birds-of-a-Feather sessions in the evenings and a keynote speaker will round out the program. Proceedings of the technical sessions will be published.

Workshop Submissions

Submissions are welcome for technical and position-paper presentations, reports of work-in-progress, technology debates, and identification of new open problems. We seek papers that will address a wide range of issues and ongoing developments.

Questions regarding a topic's relevance to the workshop may be addressed to the program chair, Doug Tygar (Carnegie Mellon University), via electronic mail to tygar@cs.cmu.edu . Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

Anonymous transactions
Business issues
Copy protection
Credit/Debit/Cash models
Cryptographic security
Customer service
Digital money
E-mail enabled business
Electronic libraries
Electronic wallets
Exception handling
Hardware-enabled commerce
Identity verification
Internet/WWW integration
Key management
Legal and policy issues
Proposed systems
Reports on existing systems
Rights management
Service guarantees
Services vs digital goods

Submission dates:
Extended abstracts due: 16 July 1996
Notification to authors: 5 August 1996
Final papers due: 7 October 1996

The full version of the Call for Papers is available at WWW URL http://www.usenix.org . Or send e- mail to our mailserver at info@usenix.org . Message should contain the line: send catalog.

USENIX 1997 Annual Technical Conference

6-10 January 1997
Anaheim, California

Announcement & Call for Papers and Presenters

The emphasis for the 1997 USENIX Technical Conference is on advanced systems' uses in the global computing environment. How do we build computing systems which fulfill current needs, yet can grow to handle the future demands? What techniques and technologies can we use to satisfy a large, growing, and changing computing appetite? How do we support new computing styles with advanced computing systems? How do we protect the systems we build from failures or abuses?

The conference technical sessions, on 8-10 January, include one track of refereed papers selected by the Program Committee, and a work-in-progress session, which provides a forum for short informal technical presentations. There is also a parallel track of Invited Talks. These survey-style sessions given by experts range over a variety of interesting and timely topics. Two full days of tutorials, on 6-7 January, precede the technical sessions with practical tutorials on timely topics.

Other highlights of the conference include the evening birds-of-a-feather sessions, very informal gatherings on particular topics; the Guru is IN sessions, informal discussions where noted experts from the USENIX community answer technical questions; and the Vendor Exhibits, 8-9 January, providing the opportunity for no-nonsense evaluation of products and services.

Conference Topics

The USENIX 1997 Conference will explore original and innovative approaches to applications, architecture, implementation, and performance of modern computing systems. Some particularly interesting topics follow; this list is by no means exhaustive. As at all USENIX conferences, papers that analyse advanced system related problem areas and draw important conclusions from practical experience are especially welcome.

*    Scaling the advanced system: down to laptops, palmtops, embedded systems; up to large file systems and memories, mass storage, faster networks, new protocols
*    Mobile systems: network connectivity, system support, application design
*    Tasks/roles where advanced systems shine or fall short
*    Practical network security, privacy, and cryptography
*    Electronic commerce, internetworking
*    Multi-media challenges, solutions, and innovations
*    Interoperation/standards: tools, techniques, and experience connecting with other computing systems

Invited Talks

An Invited Talks track complements the Refereed Paper track. These talks by invited experts provide introductory and advanced information about a variety of interesting topics such as using standard UNIX tools, tackling system administration difficulties, or employing specialized applications. Submitted Notes from the Invited Talks are published and distributed free to conference

technical sessions attendees. This track also includes panel presentations and selections from the best presentations offered at 1996 USENIX conferences and symposia. The Invited Talks coordinators welcome suggestions for topics and request proposals for particular talks. In your proposal, state the main focus, include a brief outline, and be sure to emphasize why your topic is of general interest to our community. Please submit via e-mail to ITusenix@usenix.org.

Tutorial Program

On Monday and Tuesday, you may attend intensive, immediately practical tutorials on topics essential to the use, development, and administration of UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems, windowing systems, networks, advanced programming languages and related technologies. USENIX will offer two full days of tutorials covering topics such as:

*    System and network administration
*    System and network security
*    Java
*    Distributed computing
*    Kernel internals: SVR4, BSD, Windows NT
*    Systems programming tools and program development
*    Portability and interoperability
*    Client-server application design and development
*    Sendmail, DNS, and other networking issues
*    GUI technologies and builders
*    World-wide web technologies

Work-in-progress Reports (WiPs)

Do you have interesting work you would like to share, or a cool idea that is not yet ready to be published? The Work-in-Progress reports, scheduled during the technical sessions, introduce interesting new or ongoing work. The USENIX audience provides valuable discussion and feedback. We are particularly interested in presentation of student work. To schedule your report, send e-mail to wips97@usenix.org .

Birds-of-a-feather Sessions (Bofs)

The always popular evening Birds-of-a-Feather sessions are very informal attendee-organized gatherings of persons interested in a particular topic. BOFs often feature presentations or demonstration followed by discussion, announcements, and the sharing of strategies. BOFs are offered Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings of the conference. BOFs may be scheduled on-site at the conference or in advance by contacting the USENIX Conference Office via e-mail to conference@usenix.org .

Vendor Exhibits

In the USENIX Vendor Exhibits, the emphasis is on serious questions and feedback. Vendors will demonstrate the technical innovations which distinguish their products. In this relaxed environment, conference attendees can discuss first-hand the product features and services on display. Plus, you can review the newest releases from technical publishers.

Refereed paper submissions dates:
Manuscripts due: 18 June 1996
Notification to authors by: 7 August 1996
Final papers due: 13 November 1996

For more detailed author instructions, e-mail to usenix97authors@usenix.org .

Sysadmin Profile

(Richard Cole)

System administrators are enjoying a new sense of importance these days. Responsible for the care and feeding of rapidly growing midrange, client/server environments, a well-trained sysadmin can make a critical difference in a company's ability to operate successfully. Don Nix has worked for over two decades in system administration, currently for the Information Services Division of Southwestern Bell in St. Louis. He recently talked with UniNews and offered a unique, hands-on perspective on today's system administration and the importance of midrange systems in a massive environment.

Only a few years ago, system administration was the place to start a career rather than build it. In a world dominated by proprietary systems and mainframes, a sysadmin's job was usually confined to routine tasks like installing new systems, doing backup, troubleshooting and upgrading software. Then came local-area networks, wide-area networks and open environments with multiple hardware and software platforms. These new environments provide more functions such as distributed data access, e-mail and groupware, but they also demand more administration to ensure that all the parts are working together. Sysadmins also have to deal with critical areas like network security, user training and rising maintenance costs.

Don's career is a perfect example of this evolution from basic mainframe tending to high-level system administration in a client/sever environment. He began working with IBM 360 and 370 mainframe computers in 1974 at what was then part of AT&T. In a short time, he was promoted to weekend supervisor for the mainframes.

Don says that working with mainframe environments was especially valuable because it broadened his technical knowledge, particularly in the area of communications and networking. "I worked in our network control center for the mainframes, so I was familiar with VTAM networks, IBM's Systems Network Architecture [SNA] and Token-Ring local-area networks," he says. "A lot of sysadmins these days might have worked on maybe one UNIX machine, but they have no idea about communications. That knowledge is critical."

Early UNIX

Don was next promoted to full-time UNIX administrator, working on some of the early UNIX computers. In fact, he mentions that he had responsibility for the very first AT&T 3B20 processor running UNIX in a production telecom environment. "I remember thinking that this was the fastest machine I had ever logged onto," he recalls. He also remembers that the computer was a far cry from today's integrated hardware. "When you opened the back, you could see that almost everything was tied together. It actually had removable circuit cards."

The 3B-20 machine was chosen in part, Don says, because its UNIX platform permitted rapid development. "The developers said that they could do it [with UNIX] real fast, and they did it, and everyone was amazed." Application development was especially important to a telecom company in the predivestiture days, Don says. "We were a unique creature. We might buy some sort of accounting or asset management package off the shelf, but for inventory and a lot of other areas, we needed to develop our own software." Huge inventory databases are needed in the telecom industry to keep track of everything from telephone switches to

cabling, and the software supporting these databases was highly customized. "That was the advantage of a UNIX environment," Don says. "It is easier to develop software for specialized, even single-server, solutions."

When asked what UNIX platforms he has worked with, he laughs. "What platforms haven't I worked with?" He specifically mentions experience working with Sun Solaris, SunOS, AIX/6000, ATT PWB 3.0, ATT SVR4 and the Pyramid "dual-universe" system that ran both the System V and the Berkeley UNIX variant on the same machine.

Mainframe Versus Midrange

As someone who has worked with both mainframes and midrange, client/server environments, Don is in a good position to compare the two technologies. He doesn't feel that mainframes are going away, simply because there are so many currently installed. At the same time, he doesn't feel that they are going to regain the importance they enjoyed in the past. "I don't see growth in that area."

In contrast, the midrange world at Southwestern Bell is booming. "Every two or three weeks, someone around here is talking about moving their applications from the mainframe to the client/server environment," says Don. At the same time, he admits that midrange systems can be a challenge to manage because they are based on open platforms. "I find open systems so nonstructured," he says. "A lot of that has come about just from tremendous growth – it came about so fast that no one thought there would be environments like there are right now. But there are still problems in trouble management."

Accordingly, one of Southwestern Bell's top priorities these days is working on ways to structure both the operations and system administration of open, midrange systems. "In a mainframe world, everything is segregated," Don explains. "You have a database administrator, network specialists and so on. But with open systems, it's hard to define who has what responsibilities."

For Don and his colleagues, the solution includes revamping the help desk functions so that certain people have responsibility for only certain areas. In the past, he says, sysadmins were assigned to one machine and were responsible for everything associated with it. "Now you really have to specialize." His team also is looking into distributed system management tools, including alarm monitoring and possibly even distributed sysadmin functions. "We need a platform that will allow a central help desk to do a lot of the repetitive tasks," he says.

Telecom Reform

As a long-time telephone company employee, Don has seen many changes in the industry, which have affected his career and the technology he maintains. When Don first signed on as an AT&T employee, he had the option of moving among a variety of divisions, such as Bell Labs, Western Electric or local telephone operating companies. After the divestiture of AT&T, he became an employee of the San Antonio-based SBC Communications, Inc.

In addition, the recent telecommunications reform bill is having a major impact on Don and his work. The bill allows, among other things, greater flexibility in providing voice, data and image services among regional telephone companies, long-distance carriers, cable companies and other providers. "I

think the bill is good for the industry," he says. "The increased competition will be healthy."

Taking Midrange Seriously

Don is happy that the "midrange open-systems client/server-everything kind of world" is finally getting due respect. As he puts it, everyone used to think: "What can that little box sitting over there actually do?" Now upper management is taking note of these little boxes and realizing how critical they are to an enterprise. "Maybe that's one of the problems with the environment I've worked in," Don says. "You take one machine and it doesn't seem to be significant. But you interconnect 40 or 50 of them, and you've got a pretty large project."

He mentions that his district manager, a man with extensive mainframe experience, has now become an advocate for midrange systems. Still, there are always new challenges in the life of a sysadmin. Sometimes other departments present a new system to Don and his team and say, "Here – install it." This naturally plays havoc with a sysadmin's budget. To deal with these unexpected arrivals on their doorstep, Don and his team now present a budget for system administration when other departments present their business case for new procurements. That way, sysadmin costs are built into the budget before implementation even begins.

"I think that's one of the most overlooked things in midrange systems today," Don says. "Namely, what it costs to run them day to day." With the growing complexity and importance of midrange systems, companies will be taking careful notice of these systems and the employees like Don who keep them up and running.

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