August 12, 2002

The Open Group's CEO defends domain-name dispute, calls for more openness

-By Grant Gross -

Allen Brown, president and CEO of The Open Group defends his organization's recent attempts to gain control of some Unix-related domain names by saying companies that license the UNIX trademark from The Open Group need that trademark to maintain its value.
"The reality is the customers depend on us being able to continue to certify against the UNIX trademark," Brown said in a wide-ranging interview with NewsForge. "If we don't protect the Unix trademark, that doesn't help the customers. It becomes a generic, like cellophane or something."

But why now, after the owner of had the domain for nine years? Brown says he and The Open Group's board recently became concerned after seeing one Unix domain name put up for sale on eBay for $1 million.

"At that point, we said, 'oh-oh, that's not so good,'" he added. "Also, we're concerned about not losing the trademark."

While The Open Group gained control of and, it lost its attempt to wrestle from the hands of long-time owner Tim Bass. Brown said he's not quite sure if The Open Group will continue to pursue the case, but his organization may be willing to work with Bass on its trademark concerns.

"If the site is being used in a way that doesn't hurt the UNIX trademark, and doesn't abuse it, then that's great," he said. "But if it doesn't, we'd be concerned. I think what we'd like to do is chat with him on some of the uses, because if you look at, the word 'Unix' means something different than we'd like it to mean."

Brown said he recognizes that many of the features on do fit with The Open Group's vision of what UNIX is. "If people are using it in ways that make us comfortable, that's okay," he said.

Despite criticisms that its domain-name grab were "anti-open," Brown sees no conflict with The Open Group's larger mission of pushing for open standards and interoperability between computer systems. Brown noted several Open Source projects the organization is working with, including the WBEMsource initiative and a certification package for the Free Standards Group. The Open Group also provides Open Source versions of a handful of its software packages, including Motif and the Unix Test Suite.

"Open Source is a great tool for getting standards done," Brown said.

The Open Group is advocating for "boundary-less information flow" not only with UNIX, but with all computer systems so that the IT market can grow. "The concern I have about the industry right now is people are fighting over a diminishing market," Brown said.
"So there's all sorts of nonsense going on in the market right now to get market share for bunches of small organizations."

Brown sees greater interoperability as a cure for the current stagnancy in the IT market. "I know that it isn't very fashionable to say this to the supply side, but in reality, if we could grow the cake, they'd do so such better," he said. "I strongly believe that the emphasis on services rather than interoperable products is holding back the market."

The Open Group's work toward interoperability has its roots in X/Open, its predecessor group. Brown isn't sure if X/Open's pulling together of warring Unix vendors and their customers can be a model, for the Open Source community, but it did work for the UNIX community.

"There was always a huge fragmentation in the UNIX industry, and what X/Open was trying to do all that time was to pull them all together, by saying, 'Regardless of which one you buy, it needs to conform to this X/Open Portability Guide.'"

In 1994, those UNIX vendors did come together, and Brown said it's amazing how similar the baselines of all the different flavors of Unix are.

Brown hopes UNIX and Linux can "live in harmony somewhere" and become compatible "backwards and forwards." He believes there's work to be done before that happens, because of Linux's relative youth compared to UNIX, but he doesn't try to suggest one is better than the other.

"I really don't have an opinion on whether Linux is better than UNIX or Windows is better than Linux or whatever," he said. "At the end of the day, however carefully organizations try to implement technology, they're going to buy different things from different vendors. The cost of integration is just a nightmare -- people just can't throw out their legacy and start again.

"I would love to see Windows certified as being compatible with UNIX so that you've got the same measure of portability across UNIX and Windows platforms."

Brown chuckled at that last remark. "But I don't don't have control over that kind of thing. Wouldn't it be great if ISVs and the developers could have a common set of APIs, at least a base level?"


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