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The Year in Operating Systems: No battle of big ideas

Small change for 2009

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Unix break out, or bottled up?

Unix is essentially - and embarrassingly - dead on the desktop, so Unix operating system makers have the luxury of only having to worry about servers. Of course, if IBM and Hewlett-Packard had ported their respective AIX and HP-UX Unixes to x64 iron and then kept pace with x64 and related graphics enhancements, their workstations business might have not died off.

Then again, Sun Microsystems still claims to be a workstation vendor, and it has re-embraced x64 processors and it doesn't really have much of a workstation biz. This is one of those cases where Windows and Linux just seem to win.

IBM's AIX saw very little development action this year, with version 6.1 having been delivered in November 2007 - a few months after the initial Power6-based servers hit the market. AIX 6.1 featured tweaks to take advantage of the Power6 iron, including the new decimal and AltiVec math units on the chip, and also has a substantially reworked hypervisor, now called PowerVM. It has had many names.

In September this year, IBM created an Enterprise Edition of AIX 6.1, which included what used to be an add-on to provide workload partitions (WPARs) in addition to logical partitions (LPARs). WPARs are akin to virtual private servers, which have a shared kernel and file system but which look like separate AIX instances as far as system admins and applications are concerned. WPARs are similar to Sun's containers for Solaris. LPARs are akin to virtual machine partitions, and they run whole AIX instances with their own kernels and file systems.

AIX 6.1 Enterprise Edition also included a tool called Workload Partition Manager, which allows workloads to be live migrated around AIX boxes on a network, and a bunch of Tivoli provisioning tools. Basically, if you get Enterprise Edition, the pricing works out that IBM is giving away the Tivoli tools for free.

IBM has been mum about future AIX development, except to admit that AIX 6.2 and AIX 7 are coming down the pike.

The main changes that HP made this year have to do with packaging as well. In April, HP created four different packages of HP-UX 11i v3 concurrent with the first update of that operating system, which was initially launched (and late, I might add) in November 2007.

Now there is a base edition, a virtual server edition, a high availability edition, and a data center edition that includes the whole shebang. Basically, HP stripped out its nPar and vPar virtualization into a distinct edition and made it possible for customers to do high availability clustering without having to take everything in the stack.

The updates to HP-UX 11i v3 this year also allowed for PA-RISC and Itanium machines to host earlier 11i v2 instances inside vPar partitions. Up until now, vPars had to have all operating systems at the same level on the box. HP-UX 11i v3 already supports the forthcoming quad-core Itanium processors codenamed Tukwila, so HP doesn't have to do this with a future update.

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