Here is the next installment of The Daemon, The GNU and the Penguin, by Dr. Peter H. Salus, a History of Free and Open Source, which he is publishing in installments on Groklaw under the Creative Commons license, 2.0, attribution, noncommercial, noderivatives. This installment includes Excursus: UUNET and Chapter 11, OSF and UNIX International.
Here are the earlier chapters of The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin:
The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin
~ by Peter H. Salus
By the mid-1980s there were several commercial networks in
operation. But they were limited in service and, generally
quite high in price. None was what we would think of as an
In the Autumn of 1985, Rick Adams (then at "seismo"), approached
Debbie Scherrer, vice-president of USENIX, with a plan for a
centralized site, accessed via Tymnet by subscribers, supplying
Usenet access. 1 In an email
dated December 6, 1985, Debbie expressed interest in this.
Rick attended the October 1986 Board meeting in Monterey, CA, where
reaction was mixed, one director asking why folks would pay for
access that could be obtained free. But the Board agreed to
entertain a proposal. Rick brought a brief plan to the January
1987 (Washington, DC) meeting.
A majority of the USENIX Board liked the plan, but it really
wasn't much of a "business plan," and Rick was asked to fill out
the plan, with the participation of Board members John Quarterman
and Wally Wedel, and return.
By late March 1987 (in New Orleans), Rick was back with a full plan
and the Board approved it enthusiastically. I was authorized to
spend up to $35,000 for an experimental period.
UUNET was born. "As people moved from universities and corporations
where they had email and Usenet access to jobs where they had no
access," Rick told me, "a need developed for a service that could
provide email and Usenet access. UUNET was created in response to
When the word got out, the demand far exceeded expectations. For
example, Rick and Mike O'Dell had forecast 50 subscribers by the
"end of summer." They topped 50 by mid-June 1987. Five years
later, they had several thousand customers. UUNET reincorporated
as a for-profit and then had its IPO. There is a long and
interesting history; but this is not the place for it.
The important thing is that UUNET initiated commercial delivery
of USENET and the Internet.
Chapter 11. OSF and UNIX International
In 1987, AT&T purchased a sizable percentage of Sun Microsystems
and there was a joint announcement that they would be involved in
a grand merger of System V and BSD. Moreover, AT&T announced that
Sun would receive "preferential treatment" as AT&T/USL [UNIX
Systems Laboratories] developed new software. Sun announced that
its next operating system would not be a further extension of SunOS.
The scientific community felt that Sun was turning its back on them.
The manufacturers felt that the special relationship would mean that
Sun would get the jump on them. Great cries of praise did not go
up from the computer manufacturers.
"When Sun and AT&T announced the alliance," Armando Stettner told me,
"we at Digital were concerned that AT&T was no longer the benign,
benevolent progenitor of UNIX . . . Sun was everyone's most aggressive
competitor. We saw Sun's systems were direct replacements for the
VAX. Just think: the alliance combined our most aggressive and
innovative competitor with the sole source of the system
software -- the balance shifted."
On 7 January 1988 there was a meeting at DEC's Western Offices in
Palo Alto, CA. There were participants from Apollo, DEC, Gould
Electronics, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell-Bull, InfoCorp, MIPS, NCR,
Silicon Graphics, UniSoft, and Unisys. The group (called "the
Hamilton Group," because DEC's building was at 100 Hamilton
Avenue) sent a telegram to James E. Olson, CEO of AT&T, requesting
a meeting "during the week of January 25" with Vittorio Cassoni
(Senior VP of AT&T's Data Systems Division).
Larry Lytel of HP called a preliminary meeting of the group at the
JFK Marriott for the evening of 27 January. The meeting with
Cassoni took place the next day. There was a follow-up meeting of
the Hamilton Group in Dallas on 9 February. The meeting with
Cassoni had had no positive effect where the Group was
concerned. (It's not clear whether AT&T took the Group seriously.
It appears that Cassoni just thought of this as jockeying for
commercial advantage.) In March, IBM was invited to join.
Apollo, DEC, HP, IBM, Bull, Nixdorf, and Siemens held semi-secret
meetings and in May 1988, the formation of the Open Software
Foundation was announced. (The Wall Street Journal for
May 18 noted that no one present at the launch of OSF could
recall ever seeing Ken Olsen sharing a stage with an IBM
Ken Thompson was in Australia at the time. When Ritchie told
him what had transpired, he said: "Just think, IBM and DEC in
one room and we did it!"
The seven companies listed above were joining hands to produce
a new UNIX kernel and a new user interface. Their "temporary"
headquarters would be in Lawrence, MA. A delegation of
executives (loaned to OSF from their various corporations)
attended the USENIX Conference in San Francisco in June.
It didn't take long for AT&T, Sun and their coterie to form
a counter-consortium, UNIX International, dedicated to the
marketing of SVR4.
OSF quickly named its executive team, including David Tory
(Computer Associates) as President; and Roger Gourd (DEC),
Ira Goldstein (HP), and Alex McKenzie (IBM) among the Vice
UI appointed Peter Cunningham (ICL) as President.
By the end of 1989, Gourd's engineering team had come out with a
new user interface, Motif, which was well-received, and
Goldstein's research team had chosen Mach as the underlying kernel
for the OS. OSF also increased its number of sponsors, adding
Hitachi and Philips. However, as HP swallowed up Apollo and
Siemens bought Nixdorf, at year end there were still seven sponsors.
Both OSF and UI ran membership drives and gave out pens and
badges and stickers. Each ended up with about 200 members.
In 1991-92 the worldwide economy worsened. Bull, DEC, IBM,
and the computer side of Siemens all lost money. AT&T resold
its share of Sun. The fierce mudslinging appeared to be over.
(At one point there was even a rumor of OSF and UI merging, for
the good of UNIX.)
It hardly seemed to matter: Sun had adopted Motif; in 1993 USL
sold UNIX to Novell, whereupon UI disbanded; OSF abandoned several
of its previously announced products (shrink-wrapped software and
the distributed management environment); Bull, Philips and Siemens
withdrew from sponsorship of OSF.
Armando remarked to me: "It's not clear whether there's any purpose
to OSF any more."
In 1984 a group of UNIX vendors had formed a consortium,
X/Open, to sponsor standards. It was incorporated in 1987
and based in London. In 1996 OSF merged with X/Open to become
The Open Group.
X/Open owned the UNIX trademark, which passed on to The Open
Group. The Group also took on Motif and the Common Desktop
But the Open Group maintained its concern with standards, and
is the sponsor of the Single UNIX Specification. It has also
taken on sponsorship of other standards including CORBA and the
Linux Standard Base.
1Tymnet was an early proprietary network, first
set up parallel to the ARPAnet by Tymshare, Inc., using Interdata
7/32s as nodes. In 1979, Tymnet was spun off by Tymshare and
bought up by McDonnell-Douglas in 1984. In 1989, BT North America
bought Tymnet from McDonnell-Douglas. In 1993, MCI bought Tymnet
from BT North America for stock. Tymnet survived MCI's acquisition
by WorldCom, but was finally closed down in 2004.
2 At that time I
was Executive Director of the USENIX Association. I handled the UUNET
application for not-for-profit status, the liaison with the lawyer,
and signed all the checks for about 14 months. Over that period, the
USENIX Board increased its "advance" to over $100,000. In only a few
years, UUNET repaid all its debt.
Dr. Salus is the author of "A Quarter Century of UNIX" and several other books, including "HPL: Little Languages and Tools", "Big Book of Ipv6 Addressing Rfcs", "Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Imperative Programming Languages", "Casting the Net: From ARPANET to INTERNET and Beyond", and "The Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Functional, Concurrent and Logic Programming Languages". There is an interview with him, audio and video,"codebytes: A History of UNIX and UNIX Licences" which was done in 2001 at a USENIX conference. Dr. Salus has served as Executive Director of the USENIX Association.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. To view
a copy of this license, visit
or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way,
Stanford, California 94305, USA.