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Happy Birthday, POSIX!

by Nick Stoughton

The international working group responsible for POSIX standards celebrated its tenth anniversary in April. The ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG15 first met in April 1988 and has since then guided several of the IEEE standards developed by the Technical Committee on Operating Systems (TCOS) and then the Portable Application Standards Committee (PASC) through the process of becoming formal, full international standards.

This work has been a vital part of the whole standards effort. There is no doubt that had the POSIX standards not had this international standing, they would not have been so effective, and the term "Open Systems" would not have the same weight as it does today. And it was in 1988 that the first version of POSIX.1, describing system interfaces, was completed.

Standards for operating system interfaces are primarily developed in three places: The Open Group (X/Open, who produce the Single UNIX Specification); IEEE PASC, who produce the POSIX standards, and WG15, who take specifications from both these sources and make them ISO standards. Many have commented on the waste of effort in having three sources, and efforts are afoot to try to improve coordination between them. But of the three, WG15 is definitely regarded as the least "sexy." It does little technical development of its own (though it has been argued that it could and should do more). It has a primarily political focus to ensure that the work developed in a US body is appropriate for international consumption.

The founder and convener of WG15 since its inception has been Jim Isaak of Digital (or should I say Compaq now?). He has decided that it is time for him to relinquish this task and pass it on to a successor. But who is that to be? Jim announced his forthcoming resignation last year, but after one year of searching nobody has come forward. The job is not simple, carrying the full responsibility for seeing each of the projects through, ensuring that each step of the process is followed. It means attending two WG15 and one SC22 meeting per year, on top of any work with either of the other two bodies (primarily PASC). It is a volunteer post, needing the full support of the individual's employer. At the same time, it is a position of considerable power and influence. The convener sets the agenda at the international level and can effectively steer the future of Open Systems in this area.

So what happens if nobody volunteers? Simply put, all the current work (including maintenance of completed work) would revert from the ISO working group (WG15) to the subcommittee (SC22). WG15 itself would cease to exist. The subcommittee has no interest in holding this work directly itself. In its view, if nobody is interested in volunteering to keep the working group going, then the work should stop, and those standards completed should be withdrawn. This is, therefore, another crisis threatening the very existence of POSIX.

Jim Isaak has done a terrific job over these past ten years, and we all owe him a vote of thanks. We cannot and must not let his work go to waste. If you, or someone you know, think that you would like to know more about this opportunity, please contact me! (A detailed job description can be found at <>).


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First posted: 7 July 1998 efc
Last changed: 7 July 1998 efc
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