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What's Left Of Unix?

For 35 years, the Unix operating system has been a mainstay of the computer industry, from its origins as a time-sharing system used by horn-rimmed academics to its central role running some of today's most powerful servers. But enthusiasm for this sophisticated piece of code is in decline as sales flatten, while Linux, the Unix-like alternative, thrives. Which leads to the inevitable question: Is Unix itself on the wane?

The past few years haven't been kind to Unix. Two longtime commercial backers, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, have diverted resources and energy into promoting Linux at the expense of their Unix offerings. Sun Microsystems' Solaris wasn't selling so well, so it embarked on an open-source strategy to give it away. SCO Group, which owns the venerable Unix System V code base, is distracted by intellectual-property lawsuits against IBM and other Linux backers. John Loiacono, Sun's senior VP of software, recently referred to HP-UX and IBM's AIX as "the dead Unixes." Competitive bluster to be sure, but Loiacono may not be far off in that assessment.


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In the '90s, Unix was set to become the dominant operating system for heavy-duty computing, with Windows the only threat. But the rise of Linux and steady maturation of Win-

dows have darkened Unix's future. Spending for Unix licenses and maintenance was just over $2 billion in 2004, down $51 million from the year before, according to IDC, which predicts the market will be stagnant over the next few years.

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