Dial “M” for Monterey

The IT industry is full of secrets — passwords, biometric security, code-names for upcoming products — but there are few real murder mysteries.

Except one: who killed Project Monterey?

Three years ago, this hush-hush collaboration between a handful of the biggest names in technology

was supposed to have created a revolutionary new operating system for the Unix market. The usual suspects included IBM, Intel, the former Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) and Sequent. In late 1999, when a few of these firms held a joint conference call, few details were provided but the hype machine was put into high gear. These were the days when you still read story after story about the battle between Unix and NT (the latter was always gaining ground, while the former was always showing surprising resilience). During the question and answer portion of that call, I remember a fellow journalist asking what the “”Monterey”” name was supposed to mean, but no one had a clue.

These same executives seem just as clueless now that the project is long dead. It had to have been a disappointment to Intel, considering that Monterey was to be specifically designed for Merced, the first generation of its high-end Itanium processor line. It was due to arrive in 2000, and would in theory combine the best elements of IBM’s AIX, SCO’s flagship UnixWare OS and PTX, a Unix variant developed by Sequent. That same year, IBM bought Sequent, which indicated an even closer relationship between two of the key players on the Monterey team.

And then . . . nothing. It would have been nice for someone to pick up the ball and clarify the situation for the industry, but no one ever seems to host a conference call when things go belly-up.

It’s not easy figuring out whodunnit, but Intel chief executive Craig Barrett thought he had the answer. “”IBM lead the way with Monterey,”” he said when I met him at Intel Developer Forum 2002 last month. “”They’re the ones who de-emphasized stuff and moved over to Linux.””

It’s true that IBM’s massive investment in Linux took the focus off Monterey, but it was not the only hardware vendor involved. Compaq, Samsung and Acer were all on board with the project, as were high-end enterprise players like Unisys and Computer Associates.

On the other hand, SCO was the one who sold itself to Linux heavyweight Caldera, essentially killing off its own product line. Monterey was predicated on SCO’s massive installed base, and although Caldera announced a hybrid Linux/Unixware offering last year, it has yet to build on that legacy.

There would have been a lot of development and marketing involved in the creation of a new Unix operating system, however powerful the ingredients used to build it. Linux, with an open source community that takes on these responsibilities itself, made the top-down approach of a vendor-driven OS seem out of date. Evolution is a word bandied about all too frequently in IT, but this is one instance where a slow but meaningful shift occurred.

In the end, the mystery of Monterey can be solved the same way Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot solved the Murder on the Orient Express: everyone did it! In this case, “”everyone”” is the Linux community itself, which grew faster and took hold much more strongly than vendors expected. Though it denied losing share to Linux until the bitter end, SCO’s sluggish sales in 2000 and its eventual capitulation to Caldera suggests otherwise.

The chronology here is a little confusing — did IBM embrace Linux and thereby kill off SCO and Monterey, or did Linux eat off SCO’s market share, attracting IBM and killing Monterey? Beats me — there are details of this story that will probably follow Monterey, along with its once-promising future, to the grave.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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