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Unix Remains A Flexible System

unixsAt the management consulting firm of Kestnbaum & Co. in Chicago, Systems Manager Joe Day got tired of waiting for OS/2. “Too little, too late,” he said. “It’s still so far off that we don’t intend to address it at all.” So Day made the move to Unix with a companywide network of 386 systems.

Day supports about 20 users who have a variety of jobs. “Some write C, some know statistics, some are secretaries who do word processing and electronic mail,” he said. “They can all use the system to whatever level they need. They all use multitasking, with several sessions running at any time.” A multiwindow interface makes it easy for novice users to keep tract of several tasks.

When companies move from stand-alone PCs to networks, most are concerned about two things: complexity and performance. At first, network administration was “a little overwhelming,” Day acknowledged. But after a few classes for himself and his colleagues, he reported, “We’re doing all right.”

Performance, too, has been satisfactory, he said. “The only time we had a problem was when a database was running on one system, with four clients sharing its disk as well. The dial-up users for that system were a little unhappy.”

Day’s comments underscore a key feature of Unix: It’s relatively simple and inexpensive to add users of basic functions by connecting dumb terminals. Those users can be connected directly or via modem; the latter option has greatly benefited Sedgwick Sales, a retail jewelry firm in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

“We have 200 kiosk locations nationwide,” said Don Sedgwick Jr., vice president of marketing. “They all send in sales and labor reports weekly by modem–also ordering requests, usually overnight. We handle the payroll and inventory accounting that way.

“We used to scramble around the office doing the reports for these 200 stores, everyone taking the stuff over the phone,” he said. “With the modem system, it really alleviates a lot of work.”

Sedgwick Sales’ experience highlights yet another feature of Unix: convenient portability of applications, in many cases upward from DOS as well as laterally across different Unix platforms. The applications were written in FilePro, from The Small Computer Co., of Hawthorne, N.Y., and originally developed by Technology/One, in Irvine, Calif., for Sedgwick Sales’ earlier DOS-based XT system. As the firm grew, the FilePro applications were transferred to a more capable 386 Unix platform.

“One of the selection criteria was the ability to move up,” said Bill Hiatt, president of Technology/One, a value-added reseller of Xenix systems, from The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO).

SCO is best known for SCO Xenix, its implementation of Microsoft Corp.’s licensed version of the AT&T-trademarked Unix. This unfortunate alphabet soup of names, like Xenix, Ultrix (from Digital Equipment Corp.) and Esix (from Everex Systems Inc.), all with their own twist on Unix, has contributed to corporate uncertainty about whether Unix is a sound foundation for commercial applications. Fortunately, said Hiatt, this is diminishing as vendors start to license the Unix name from AT&T.

The Macintosh community is also embracing Unix, especially now that standard Macintosh applications can run directly under Apple Computer Inc.’s A/UX version of Unix.

A hybrid system of Macintoshes tied to a 386-based server is up and running in Atlanta at Culpepper &Associates, management consultants for the software industry. “We have Unix tied in to our Macintosh network,” said Steve Benfield, research associate at the firm. “We use it for electronic mail, accounting, and our direct-mail and other databases.”

Benfield sees Unix systems in client firms as well; many companies find it far more economical than LANs. “Adding a new user is just [the cost of] a new terminal, rather than a new PC,” he explained. “One $10 million company is running 30 terminals on a single 386 box. I’ve heard of some people running 40 or even 60 users.”

Unix servers can make good use of more advanced desktop terminals, such as 286-based PCs with cooperative processing systems. This is the approach selected by Larry Saltzman, director of business affairs at Viacom Productions Inc. in Universal City, Calif., producer of such TV offerings as the new Perry Mason movies.

“We needed Unix to really unleash the speed and power of the 386,” Saltzman explained, “and the databases available under Unix were also much more powerful than dBASE or R:base.”

Most Unix users and developers echoed the sentiments of Donald Landwirth, president of DML Associates Inc., a systems-integration firm in Larkspur, Calif., which recently ported a dBASE III application to SCO FoxBase+ under Xenix.

“We did a successful conversion from DOS to Unix–it’s faster, it’s true multiuser,” Landwirth said. “There have been some clear benefits. If we had to do it again, we’d do it the same way.”

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