Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tim Bray points to Sun's John Clingan who asks the important question (in English, not Latin): Who analyzes the analysts? This bit caught my eye:

I remember back in ~1990 when Windows NT was being talked about taking over the world. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) saw it on a magazine rack and said "I saw a Byte magazine cover which said, 'Is Unix Dead?'". "Uh oh, are you going to have a job next year?" Ironically, Byte magazine is dead (although byte.com is still around). Is this the enforcement of accountability for journalists and analysts? [John Clingan]
Yup, in the long run it is. But things have gotten a whole lot more interactive than that. As I mentioned on Friday, Sean McCown's SQL/XML story for InfoWorld, and Michael Rys' commentary on it, combine in an interesting way. Every analyst ought to be a part-time practitioner, and every practitioner ought to be a part-time analyst.

That 1990 BYTE story, by the way, makes for an interesting re-read. Some backstory: my pals Tom Yager and Ben Smith wrote it, and all three of us objected to the sensationalistic headline and its hand-wringing subhead ("As Unix faces the stiffest competition of its long life--Windows NT--can it survive?"). These came from the editorial packagers, not from the writers. And naturally, they're all anyone remembers now. I found a copy of the article on the BYTE CD-ROM, and at this late date I don't think anyone will begrudge my posting it. So, back from the dead, here is BYTE's 1990 Is Unix Dead?. It contains some gems:

Reports greatly exaggerated:

Despite its problems, Unix is not dead; in fact, it's surprisingly healthy.

Imagining OS X:

Improving Unix is much on the minds of Unix vendors. "If you have an X-based desktop with Mac-like features, the end user won't care that Unix is underneath," says Ken Arnold, an engineer at HP's Distributed Object Computing Program. As base-level machines get more powerful, they can better run the larger Unix operating systems. Then, to the end user, it is simply a matter of what off-the-shelf applications are available.

Avadis Tevanian, director of System Software at Next, agrees. He envisions a GUI that can run productivity applications side-by-side with user-made custom applications. "To get up to millions of units, you have to get rid of [the Unix shell]," he says.

The Sun factor:

Solaris 2.0, a derivative of SVR4, is going to be the acid test for Sun spinoff SunSoft. It remains to be seen whether the software arm of a hardware vendor is truly willing to create a level playing field. Sun is trying to set itself up with a virtual monopoly on SPARC operating systems and, through SunSoft and Solaris 2.0, is planning to extend its reach into the realm of high-end PCs.

Novell's first Linux:

While NextStep will be one of the contenders for the high-end multitasking desktop, it appears that the fiercest salvo fired at NT will come from an unlikely alliance: Univel. USL, looking to get serious about marketing and distribution, and Novell, hoping to shed some of its proprietary image in the newly competitive climate, have joined forces to offer a new shrink-wrapped Unix operating system that may be available as early as this fall. Sold as SVR4.2 by USL and as UnixWare by Univel, it has a list of promises at least as long as NT's.

Pretty good story, on the whole. We'll never know how many more magazines that ill-fated headline sold, but clearly, it wasn't a winning strategy.

The computing landscape back then sounds oddly familiar. In many ways things have progressed more slowly than I'd have imagined. But the analyst/practitioner ecosystem is refreshingly new. "Who analyzes the analysts?" You do.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/06/14.html#a1022