Five flavours run the gamut

Five flavours run the gamut

Unix is one of the IT world's few living legends. It has been in continuous use since its birth in 1969 and its historic past is like that of a nation: inept rulers brought it to the brink of ruin, a dictator was deposed by a public rebellion, coalitions were made and dissolved, party loyalists inflamed passions by defecting to the other side and, for a time, anarchy reigned. Unix's journey through adolescence was anything but fun.

Our snapshots look at five commercial Unix variants, giving you an idea of where each is and where each is headed. We looked at how well the variants work with a set of 10 corporate applications: Oracle's 8i database, IBM's WebSphere Application Server, Adobe Systems' FrameMaker 6, iPlanet's Enterprise Web Server, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Sybase's ASE, Lotus Development's Domino, Chili Soft's ASP, Vitria Technology's BusinessWare and SAP's AG. The application score shows how many of the sets each OS supports.

Finally, we gave each an overall score to illustrate how healthy each is for work in the enterprise. The score depicts each variant's outlook, based on the pace of new development, software portability, quality of documentation and support, and market position.


Current release: AIX 5L

Platform: IBM RS/6000 and selected other systems running IBM Power and PowerPC series processors; Intel IA-64 edition plannedStandard: Unix 98Application score: 9 out of 10Condition: GoodAdvantages: IBM 64-bit Power/PowerPC CPUs are solid performers at deceptively low clock speeds; one OS covers entire RS/6000 product line; Linux source code portability is a standard option; and IBM's Visual Age Java and C/C++ tools and developer-friendly policies encourage development.

Disadvantages: IBM's manuals and support documents are often inscrutable; plans for enterprise IA-64 and Linux systems raise concerns that IBM may scale back RS/6000 and AIX.

Prognosis: AIX 5L, code-named "project Monterey", borrows pieces from several Unix implementations to create a versatile, broadly compatible operating environment. IBM is hedging its bets, blessing Linux as its platform-unifying OS and promising to build AIX for Intel's 64-bit CPU architecture. That has raised doubts about IBM's commitment to AIX and RS/6000, but AIX users shouldn't fret. It'll be a long time before Linux or Intel can measure up to IBM's current enterprise Unix offerings.

IBM has always taken on lots of partners, but it rarely alters its strategy to please them. Therefore, we believe AIX is here to stay, and we're glad IBM is offering users an alternative to AIX on what has been a locked-down platform.

The AIX 5L will be shipping to Australia early this year.

IBM: 12 2426

Compaq Tru64 Unix

Current release: Tru64 Unix 5.1

Platform: Compaq Alpha workstations and serversStandard: Unix 95Application score: 4/10Condition: FairAdvantages: Tru64 uses the powerful, lightweight Carnegie-Mellon Mach kernel; the 64-bit Alpha CPU is the best available for small- and mid-size servers; this continues Digital Equipment's legacy of creating powerful, affordable server systems.

Disadvantages: Compaq lacks experience and credibility outside the Intel server market; Linux is very popular among Alpha users; and holes in System V compatibility makes application porting difficult.

Prognosis: Of the many gems acquired in Compaq's purchase of Digital Equipment, few shine as brightly as the Alpha CPU. Alpha routinely tops SPEC (Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation) benchmarks as the fastest CPU at a given clock speed.

Compaq changed Digital Unix's name to Tru64 Unix to highlight the Alpha chip's 64-bit pedigree. Now Compaq has to earn the trust of the large-scale server market.

Unfortunately, Compaq's PC credentials do it more harm than good. Likewise, Linux and the mature OpenVMS may win more enterprise accounts than the fairly proprietary Tru64. Intel will undoubtedly pressure Compaq to prefer IA-64 chips over Alpha.

Tru64 Unix on Alpha leads the pack in raw performance, but we suggest you wait to see what Compaq does with Alpha after IA-64 debuts.

Tru64 Unix 5.1 is currently available in Australia.

Compaq: (02) 9022 1018

Hewlett-Packard HP-UX

Current release: HP-UX 11i

Platform: HP 9000 servers

Standard: Unix 95

Application score: 9/10

Condition: Good

Advantages: HP has a solid reputation for reliability and service; HP-UX comes with a substantial OS bundle including a Web server, C/C++, Windows networking, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) services, Linux APIs, iPlanet directory server and Veritas file system.

Disadvantages: HP PA-RISC architecture is falling behind in performance relative to the competition.

Prognosis: Hewlett-Packard is the Volvo of IT: it quietly churns out ugly, bulletproof boxes that virtually care for themselves. HP is rarely first or fastest, but it packs enormous value into its Unix products.

Not surprisingly, HP-UX is almost Linux-like in its completeness, with time-proven enterprise tools and services included in the bundle.

HP's inclusion of the Veritas journal file system moves HP-UX 11i to the front of the pack.

Once HP catches up to its rivals' performance and certifies HP-UX as Unix 98-compliant, it could move ahead of Sun and IBM.

HP-UX 11i is currently available in Australia.

Hewlett-Packard: 13 2347

SCO UnixWare

Current release: UnixWare 7.1

Platform: Intel PC workstations and serversStandard: Unix 95Application score: 0/10Condition: CriticalAdvantages: SCO is the owner of Unix System V source code; UnixWare is the most powerful and complete PC Unix; and it ships with excellent, affordable development tools.

Disadvantages: Development has been stagnant lately; sales have been trounced by free Linux and $US75 Solaris x86; and most importantly, UnixWare does not support high-profile back-office applications.

Prognosis: The Santa Cruz Operation holds the keys to the kingdom: the source code for System V Unix. As such, UnixWare 7.1 is as pure a Unix as you'll find, and SCO surrounds it with a healthy assortment of tools and services.

Nevertheless, this hasn't done SCO much good. PC Unix has always been a tough sell except in limited vertical markets. When Linux got respectable and Sun slashed the price of Solaris x86 to $US75, SCO was shoved out of the market it created.

Aside from Tarantella, a shockingly powerful Web-based application server, things look sadly bleak for this PC Unix pioneer.

UnixWare 7.1 is currently available in Australia.

SCO: (02) 9966 1999

Sun Microsystems Solaris

Current release: Solaris 8

Platform: Sun Sparc and Intel PC workstations and serversStandard: Unix 98Application score: 10/10Condition: GoodAdvantages: Brilliant, aggressive marketing made Solaris the de facto Unix; the Sparc and Intel versions are the same OS; and Solaris has the broadest application support of any commercial Unix-based OS.

Disadvantages: Sparc processors don't scale as efficiently as rivals'; large-scale Sun systems are notoriously expensive; and Solaris ships with an anaemic standard software bundle with costly options.

Prognosis: Tough marketing and driven development catapulted Sun to first place, a position Sun jealously protects. Simply, Solaris leads because Sun makes sure that everything runs on Solaris.

Price and performance combine to form Sun's Achilles' heel and the door through which IBM and HP gain access to corporate accounts. Sun customers benefit from a huge and well-trained workforce, Sun's crack consulting staff and Sun's quick resolution of Solaris bugs. These advantages, along with Sun's ownership of Java and involvement in iPlanet, make Sun the safest choice in enterprise Unix systems.

Solaris 8 has been shipping in Australia for 12 months.

Sun Microsystems: (02) 9844 5149

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