DataFocus, Microsoft Ally to Foster NT/Unix Interoperability

As a result of a recent agreement between Microsoft Corp. and DataFocus Inc. (, developers are gaining a new tool to transform Unix-based C, C++ and Fortran code into Windows-based components without rewriting it.

The tool, slated to ship during the second quarter as part of a point release for DataFocus' Nutcracker SDK, consists of a set of Visual C++ wizards that developers can use to transform existing Unix-based code into 32-bit COM components. Microsoft is providing DataFocus with unspecified technology for the project.

Nutcracker, first released in 1994, includes a set of libraries that translate Unix system calls into equivalent Windows system calls. Because it was built on the Win32 subsystem, transformed applications not only run on Windows, but can also interoperate with other Windows-based applications. A Nutcracker plug-in must be installed on the Windows machine for the transformed code to run.

Developers can use the current version of Nutcracker, 4.1, to build COM components by using existing Visual C++ wizards and then modifying the result. With the new wizards, however, the developer won't have to make any modifications, according to Pat Higbie, chairman and CEO of DataFocus.

The new component capabilities of Nutcracker will allow developers to more easily web-enable existing applications since COM components can be dropped directly into HTML, onto Active Server Pages, or into Microsoft Transaction Server. "People want to web-enable their applications," Higbie says. "If you're working with a raw Unix app, you might have a lot of work to do."

Higbie also suggests developers could use Nutcracker-created components to slowly transform existing Unix applications into Windows applications by writing new modules for Windows and switching them out with the older, Unix-based components. "Since you can add Win32 calls to Nutcracker apps, you can incrementally change a Unix app into a Windows app," he explains.

DataFocus is the only vendor with this capability, according to Jim Hurley, managing director for the Aberdeen Group's Information Security Practice. "They're really the only supplier who's doing that," he says. DataFocus' competitors are limited by their reliance on NT's support for POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface for UNIX), a standard designed to make compliant applications more portable.

So far, Nutcracker has been more popular with ISVs looking to release NT versions of their Unix applications as quickly as possible than with corporate developers. According to market watchers at GartnerGroup (, more than 300 commercial Unix applications have been ported to Windows using Nutcracker.

"We're still at the early stages of the corporate market. Even though NT has been doing well, it's been replacing Novell servers and Web servers and high end workstations. But it's only now that corporations are bringing their mission-critical applications to NT," Higbie says. Aberdeen's Hurley says he thinks corporations will have an easier time working with transformed components instead of migrating entire Unix applications.

In addition to the technology and assistance Microsoft is providing to DataFocus, the two companies agreed to help each other promote Unix/NT interoperability efforts. "There'll be ongoing work to promote COM for Unix apps and to support people that are doing this," Higbie says.

Aberdeen's Hurley says the alliance is a step in the right direction for Microsoft, which still needs to prove its support for interoperability to the industry. "We think it's critical to Microsoft," Hurley explains. "Our field research shows that Microsoft products are still limited at the workgroup level. If Microsoft is really intent on moving NT upstream, they're going to need the types of products DataFocus provides."

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