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UNIX: Library Operating System in the Nineties?

Magazine article Information Today

UNIX: Library Operating System in the Nineties?

Article excerpt

UNIX: Library Operating System in the Nineties?

Just when it began to look as though Steven Jobs was taking the academic workstation market by storm with his NeXT black box computer, Sun Microsystems announced it is negotiating a technology-exchange agreement with OCLC. Under the terms of the proposed contract, researchers at OCLC, Sun, and Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) will explore the feasibility of using Sun hardware as a platform for a prototype local campus information system. (For information on the NeXT machine, see "Cutting Edge," Wilson Library Bulletin, January 1989, pp. 84-85 for a library-oriented analysis.)

For its part, Sun is to provide grants and discounts to OCLC amounting to approximately $300,000 in computer hardware. OCLC's Office of Research will use the equipment to conduct experiments and projects. In exchange for Sun's assistance, OCLC will make the results of its research and investigations fully available to the California company.

Carnegie Mellon's (CMU) role is to provide the setting in which applications developed by OCLC will be tested. LCMU is already in league with OCLC on the development of a prototype electronic research library, which has been dugged Mercury. The testing carried out by OCLC will be done in the CMU Mercury environment.

According to Martin Dillion, OCLC's Office of Research Director, the Sun/OCLC exchange will examine such areas as the advanced functionality of online public access catalogs, gateways, and full-text interfaces. In addition to the implications that the project will have for libraries, Dillion notes that "the education community will benefit from this collaboration."

At Sun Microsystems, Marleen McDaniel, Director of Marketing for the Education Products Division, pointed out the benefits Sun will accure from the OCLC collaboration. "Their (OCLC) software expertise and our hardware expertise converge in the education community. We anticipate useful results from this exchange." Of course both Sun and OCLC really have a lot to gain from the deal even though it is clear that the project represents nothing less than competition with Job's NeXT machine.

Competing with NeXT?

The size of the education market has been described by The Chronicle of Higher Education to be worth $112 billion. Jobs says that while software development and use on college and university campuses is experiencing dynamic growth, "higher education lacks a predictable computing target for software developers, which slows emergence of practical products." He's betting on his computer as the standard new 'computing target.' It's notable that NeXT's workstation, like Sun's, is based in UNIX.

It's even more interesting that Carnegie-Mellon University, now to be a part of the Sun/OCLC research project, has played a significant role in the development of NeXT's operating system.

The core of the NeXT system is a kernel (on which developers build user interfaces) that was developed by researchers at CMU. It's also interesting, although not directly relevant to the topic under discussion here that IBM itself has licensed that interface. We must presume, then, that IBM intends to make its machines "compatible" with the NeXT equipment.

The Move to UNIX is On

What makes the Sun/OCLC arrangement particularly interesting is Sun's commitment to the UNIX operating system CLSI, another major library automation player, has already announced its decision to move CLSI technology into the UNIX environment. Will other library systems developers want to be left behind?

UNIX, originally developed by AT&T, has been around for about twenty years now, so it's certainly not a newcomer to the automation marketplace. Market research firms estimate that approximately 20 percent of all computers sold worldwide will use UNIX by the early 1990's.

But is is a fact that even though it is considered by many to be a superior product, the software has been slow to catch on. …

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