Battle lines drawn for operating system fight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 1994, 12:00am

ANY review of the year's developments in the software market will reveal quite clearly that much of the focus has been on the emerging showdown of operating systems.

Particularly on the Intel side, as opposed to the Mac, the lines are now drawn for the battle of the desktop operating systems between IBM's established, but not widely used, OS/2 and Microsoft's yet-to-be released 32-bit upgrade to Windows 3.1 which will be called Windows 95.

As has been repeated in the media many times, both these operating systems offer many similar functions and improvements on today's Windows standard including a move to 32-bit, object-oriented architectures, support for 16-bit Windows application and DOS software along with native 32-bit applications, pre-emptive multi-tasking and more.

The promise of these developments is to make users more productive, allowing unattended tasks, such as long file downloads, to proceed in the background without affecting the ability to work in the foreground.

The evidence from OS/2 Warp Version 3, which has been available for several months, is that the new 32-bit operating systems will be able to increase productivity, and even more important, should provide greater stability, especially when running native applications.

In fact, the increased stability can mean that applications which crash are highly unlikely to bring down the entire operating system as is common with Windows and even the Mac OS.

It is interesting to note, though, that while OS/2 has at least a nine-month lead on Windows 95, there are surprisingly few adapters of the operating system as a migration path to the 32-bit world and very few software vendors committed to porting their applications to 32-bit native code for OS/2, most apparently choosing to wait for the repeatedly-delayed Windows 95.

While the Intel-platform OS war has drawn most attention in the media and among users, there have been significant developments in other segments of the market.

In the Mac arena, for instance, there was the release of System 7.5 which implements some of the much-discussed new technologies such as QuickDraw GX.

What is most important in the Mac arena, though, is that Apple has finally announced a willingness to licence Mac OS (the new market name for Apple's operating system) to other producers of PowerPC boxes.

While many industry analysts feel that this is a move Apple should have made several years ago, it nonetheless marks an opportunity for wider market penetration for what many say is the desktop operating system with the most robust and best-designed user interface.

Developments have also taken place on the network operating system side. Particularly, Sun released Solaris 2.4 in the summer, the first version of their flavour of graphical UNIX which has identical source code and feature sets in both the x86 and SPARC versions.

This opens the potential for Pentium and 486-based workstations running a full version of Solaris on UNIX networks to have full access to the thousands of applications available for Solaris.

In addition, Sun announced recently the release of WABI 2.0, the latest version of its Microsoft Windows compatibility technology which allows popular Microsoft Windows applications to be run within the Solaris environment.

WABI 2.0 will ship with Solaris 2.4 on all of Sun's SPARC systems and will likely be licensed to other UNIX vendors.

Sun is also working on porting Solaris to the PowerPC platform which will help to further strengthen the RISC-chip's position in the marketplace.