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IBM, Sun and HP locked in giant Unix OS spat

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Analysts say the Unix operating system market is dwindling with speed, but the major server vendors are fighting hard to hold onto their clientele and to attract new customers with a host of Unix migration offerings rolling out in recent weeks.

Right atop IBM's Web site is a handy link to a Solaris onto AIX migration program. IBM has offered up hundreds of pages in technical comparisons between its AIX operating system and the Solaris OS, trying to show why a migration in this sour economy makes sense.

"Today, many Solaris users are contemplating their options," we are told. "Do I try to hang tight with a proprietary architecture that may not have kept technological pace? Do I try to take the leap to another UNIX vendor who is in the midst of switching his microprocessor architecture. (That's for you HP users -Ed) Do I see what my Linux options are?"

The sudden concern for Solaris users comes as a result of tit-for-tat squabble between IBM and Sun. SCO's decision to attack IBM's AIX and Linux business gave Sun ample opportunity to go after its rival.

Last month, Sun kicked of a campaign to "help" AIX users worried about SCO's legal licensing threat against the OS.

"You chose UNIX® as your network computing platform because you knew you were in it for the long haul," Sun said. "You'd expect your IT partner to show the same kind of commitment. . . So, for all of you stranded AIX users, Sun is offering a solution. For qualifying customers, we'll conduct a two-day Migration Consultation, gratis, to assess and analyze your migration feasibility to the Solaris OS. We're even willing to take a trade-in on whatever Blue boxes you're running now."

But shifting AIX users onto Solaris is not enough for Sun. The company is also starting a program on July 21 to move HP users off of Tru64. We've seen Blue Away and now it's time for HP Away. Same terms and conditions apply for both.

HP, of course, has its own migration program in place. Users are to move off of their PA-RISC and Alpha boxes and onto the good ship Itanic-based kit. The new EPIC instruction set used by Intel with Itanium will demand a fair amount of code-shifting from HP's user base.

Maybe Sun has something here with the HP Away program. Why make the move to unproven EPIC chips when a venerable RISC option is around?

HP would argue that it is building the key clustering and file system technologies from Tru64 into HP-UX, giving its Itanic users the best Unix OS. It has the same deals going on as Sun and IBM but does not want to get caught in the marketing fray.

"HP does have comprehensive and coordinated company-wide programs in place to aggressively pursue and migrate customers from Sun and IBM systems to HP systems, and we have been very successful in doing so," said a HP spokesperson. "However we are not actively publicizing these as marketing programs as our focus continues to remain on execution."

All told these migration programs amount to little more the PR smoke and mirrors. Users rarely make major migrations and are less likely to do so with a bad economy crimping their budgets.

There are indictors that Unix users are shifting to Linux for certain kinds of applications, and Microsoft with the help of Dell and others has been able to woo a Unix user or two.

Despite these moves, the fight between IBM, Sun and HP confirms that Unix is alive and well and still pulling in billions the cash-strapped vendors desperately want.

It would be interesting to know which vendor is actually seeing success with their migration program. ®

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