Unix System Laboratories (USL) signs strategic partnership pact with France-based Chorus Systemes SA and will use the Chorus' microkernel technology to broaden the market attraction, at both the low- and high-ends, of the Unisys System V 4 operating system. Under the partnership, the firms will join forces in matters regarding product developments, marketing and sales. Chorus will become a V 4 value-added reseller while USL will stake a $1 million minority share of Chorus. The move is seen as part of USL' plan to establish itself as an independent software supplier, free of AT&T's control. For Chorus, which has had few business relationships with US firms, the development should increase the firm's US market visibility.
NEW YORK -- Moving to broaden the appeal of Unix System V Release 4 at both ends of the performance spectrum, Unix System Laboratories Inc. last week threw some of its weight behind a distributed microkernel implementation offered by Paris-based Chorus Systems S.A.
The endorsement by USL took the form of a "strategic partnership" which calls for a joint development, marketing and sales effort that will use Chorus' microkernel technology to buttress the appeal of USL's V.4 operating system both in real-time embedded systems applications at the low end of the performance range and in mainframe, fault-tolerant, and massively parallel processing applications at the high end.
In practical terms, the alliance is expected to bear its first fruit in about a year, when USL brings to market an enhanced-security, multiprocessing version of Unix System V Release 4 styled ESMP. The basic multiprocessing version of V.4 was unviled only weeks ago (EN, Oct. 21).
The agreement also calls for USL to take a $1 million minority position in Chorus, USL's first outside investment and a sign, analysts said, that the firm is moving quickly to establish a presence independent of its parent, AT&T.
"From the USL perspective, they've taken some very significant steps in the last six months to establish themselves as a separate entity from AT&T, to establish a new identity as an industry software supplier," said Julie Rodwin, program director at InfoCorp, in Acton, Mass. Since AT&T sold a 20-percent-plus stake in USL to outside companies in April (EN, April 18), the unit has established a joint venture with Novell Inc. aimed at enhancing NetWare-V.4 interoperability and taken steps to carve out a bigger role in the Advanced Computing Environment.
Before settling on Chorus, USL had examined competing microkernel approaches from a range of other sources that included AT&T's Bell Laboratories unit itself, with its Plan 9 approach, USL officials confirmed. Other microkernel systems that were evaluated included the DARPA-funded Mach system offered by Carnegie Mellon University and the Amoeba OS developed by ex-Bell Laboratories official Andrew Tanenbaum at the Amsterdam-based Vrije Universiteit, along with several under development at commercial systems vendors.
USL said Chorus' advantages included the fact that it has the only commercially available system so far. "Chorus is a real-world product today," declared Stanley H. Dolberg, USL's vice president of marketing.
In essence, the approach adopted by Chorus configures a microkernel as a very minimal set of core operating services that interact with a set of system "servers" to provide full OS functionality as needed. By segregating such functions as the process manager, object manager and Stream manager as the servers, Chorus makes it easier for V.4 to accommodate builders of complex multiprocessor architectures.
"One of the criticisms that OSF sponsors and other people have felt is that V.4 is not an operating system that is easy to move into the future because of its very cumbersome code," Ms. Rodwin said, referring to a competing Unix developer, the Open Software Foundation. She said the Chorus connection thus is "a very positive step for USL," particularly in light of Chorus" proven track record.
Under the agreement, Chorus will become a VAR for V.4, working to coordinate the evolution of its Chorus/MiX microkernel technology with the development of V.4. The two partners will collaborate in R&D, marketing and sales. USL's $1 million investment will not buy it a seat on the Chorus board but is meant in part as a symbolic gesture that "We're putting our money where our mouth is" in stamping USL's imprimatur on the Chorus microkernel.
However, a USL spokesman acknowledged that the alliance is less an unqualified endorsement of the microkernel approach used by Chorus than an "alternate track into the future." The spokesman noted that V.4 users still are weighing whether they feel more comfortable addressing the issue via a subroutine approach, the microkernel approach or some hybrid of both. "We've not yet decided this is the path we want to take," he said.
At Chorus, which was founded in 1979 and has been shipping its microkernel technology since 1988, the alliance is regarded as a coup. While its European customers include such organizations as France Telecom, Alcatel, the X-terminal maker Gipsi and the European Space Agency, it has not yet managed to establish much of a beachhead in the U.S. beyond a two-year-old relationship with Unisys Corp., an alliance that so far has borne fruit only in an 88000-based RISC workstation that was brought out with little fanfare last spring for shipment into the Japanese market (EN, May 13).
Another U.S. company, Software Components Group of San Jose, disclosed a month ago that it will collaborate with Chorus on offering a V.4-based OS targeted at embedded applications.
Will Neuhauser, president of the French company's U.S. subsidiary, Chorus Systems of Beaverton, Ore., said the company has been "a little schizophrenic" in working to build high-level relationships with such parties as USL, on the one hand, and actually selling its systems, on the other hand.
In that context, the USL deal should do much to increase Chorus' visibility. "This relationship should make it easier for some people (in the U.S.) to make a decision to go ahead with Chorus," Mr. Neuhauser said. He said another major alliance is pending with a European organization which he declined to identify.