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Sun reveals Internet Toaster

Elusive device finally spotted at Demo 96, "Java CPU" announcement

By Michael McCarthy, IDG News Service

February  1996
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At Demo 96, a meeting for PC industry executives and the press held in Palm Springs, CA, Eric Schmidt, chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems Inc., showed off a prototype network computer -- he didn't, however, specify how much it will cost.

The small-footprint device, designed to work with any external keyboard, mouse, and display, ran a pre-beta version of Sun's Java object-oriented software and Internet browser without an operating system. Sporting 8 megabytes of RAM, 8 megabytes of DRAM, and a 110-MHz MicroSPARC processor, this diskless machine's dimensions were 5.5 inches by 9 inches by 2 inches. (For more details on Sun's unnamed device, see our staffer's notes from the Sun Microelectronics announcement.)

Schmidt didn't reveal all these details at Demo 96, but a reporter caught up with him at the ComNet show in Washington, D.C., where he described the appliance in more depth. The device will connect to an Ethernet network using a standard 10BaseT connector and is not intended to be portable. "You would buy this if there were Java applications you wanted to run," Schmidt said. "If you want to run Word and Excel, don't buy this."

At Demo 96, Schmidt reiterated his faith in the low-cost Internet appliance market, although he did not commit the company to selling such a device for less than a $500 retail price. Instead he described a Java terminal which would succeed because its total cost of ownership would be much lower than a conventional PC.

The prototype demonstrated was also designed with a dimple in the top intended to nestle a coffee cup. "If this doesn't work, at least you'll have a coffee holder," Schmidt joked.

Schmidt also said that on February 1 in Palo Alto, CA Sun will introduce new SPARC and UltraSPARC processors that are optimized for the Java instruction set and will be used in Internet devices such as the one shown at Demo 96. He did not disclose when Sun will bring the devices to market.


In other Demo 96 news...
Other firms made Web-related previews at Demo 96, including Netscape Communications and Microsoft, which showed off their own next-generation Web applications.

Netscape unveiled Navigator Gold, which includes all the functionality of its market leading Netscape Navigator 2.0 browser, is designed to enable ordinary users to publish their own Web pages more easily.

"Starting today, millions of people will start publishing their own Web pages," said Mike Homer, vice president of marketing at Netscape. "We think that's the way to turn more than than half of our millions of users into content creators."

Navigator Gold is available today in beta release. It will be priced at $79, compared to $49 for Navigator 2.0.

Meanwhile, Microsoft fleshed out its vision of tight integration between Windows and the Web by demonstrating Web-style browsing features for the Windows 95 shell.

"We want to make browsing an integral part of the Windows shell," said Pete Higgins, vice president of applications and content at Microsoft. Higgins showed off Internet Explorer 3.0, which he said would become available "by about mid-year."

The new version supports popular new extensions to the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) such as in-line viewers and Macromedia's Shockwave for Director, which, like Java, brings animation and interactivity to the Web.

Web products dominated the presentation of new products:

-- Sari Kalin and Michael Parsons, IDG News Service

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STB's entry into the Java world

SPARC Technology Business renamed, Sun shows off Internet device, announces `JavaCPUs'

Editor's note: As the February issue "went to press," Sun's SPARC Technology Business group hosted a press event where it announced it would change its name to Sun Microelectronics and sell new Java-enabled CPUs. It also took the opportunity to show off a prototype of an unnamed Internet terminal running Java. What follows are a SunWorld Online staffer's notes of the event, which offer more details on the Internet device and JavaCPU than the above, earlier story.

Date: February 1, 1996
Place:Java Internationale, a coffee shop in Palo Alto
Purpose: SPARC Technology Business changing its name to Sun Microelectronics, announces a family of custom ASICs dedicated to running Java programs directly. Also, to show-off Internet device

"The unnamed device is a nice-looking box about the size of a hardbound book, with rounded corners, standing on its long side like a small slab. It has perhaps six I/O ports out the back, one hooked to a 19-inch screen, another to a Sun Voyager which was acting as a network for purposes of the demonstration. Inside the demo box was a MicroSPARC chip, RAM, and associated chips and I/O, no local storage. On the screen it ran HotJava, which displayed Web pages with Duke the Java mascot turning somersaults.

"The system runs the same as any Sun box runs HotJava. The purpose is not aceleration, but simplicity. You can see how the box itself, sans tube, would be low cost. It could be an inexpensive way for people to browse the Web or run Java applets, and do nothing more (or less). While no computer user will give up his or her SPARCstation, PC or Mac in favor of this limited-use device, it could extend the Web, and Java, to other areas. For example, a coffee shop like Java Internationale might install Web access terminals for customers to play with, as a gimmick playing off the name of the shop. A Web-only device with no local storage would be perfect for this setting. Web-driven kiosks, in other words.

The new JavaCPU family

"The JavaCPU family similarly extends the reach of Java beyond the power computer user or even the home computer user. The chips, still six months or more from shipping, will take the form of ASICs of 100,000 gates or so (compared to millions for general-purpose CPUs). As Sun puts it, the Java bytecode is the instruction set for this chip.

"Sun's intent: to sell this chip for embedded systems that would benefit from some of Java's special skills, such as networking, and the ability to upgrade code on the fly over the network. One example: a multifunction cellular telephone.

"The latest Nokia cellular telephone, said a Sun spokesperson, uses a 386 and offers a bewildering array of features. Programmed in Java, such a telephone could upgrade its features, add to popular feature sets and eliminate unpopular ones, fix bugs and tune performance, each time a caller used the phone. With a Java-specific ASIC, such a phone would run faster as well, and require less RAM since the Java CPU hardwires-in the Java bytecodes; only enough RAM to hold incoming applets would be needed.

"The JavaCPU could also serve as a Java-accelerating coprocessor in a standard desktop system. According to Sun Microelectronics JavaCPU computer architect Mike O'Connor, hardwiring the bytecodes has the added performance benefit of greatly reducing latency -- the noticeable lag in the current Java beta interpreter between the time applets are downloaded and the time they start running, during which the verifier is checking the code and the interpreter is locating and loading class libraries.

"The chips are not SPARC, or related to SPARC in any way, but built from scratch. Low-density ASICs have several advantages: low cost, simplicity, and ease with which they can be modified to meet customer needs.

"Sun Microelectronics announced three successive models of its new family.

--Michael McCarthy

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