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February  1998
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Sun enhances servers with 336MHz Sparc processor module

Boston (February 25, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. has released a 336MHz UltraSparc-II processor module with a 4M-byte external cache for its existing line of mid-range and high-end servers.

Today's announcement marks the second time in less than a year that Sun has tweaked the performance of that line of servers. Sun said that the new processor module allows its Enterprise 3000-6000 servers to reach 43 percent greater computing performance than systems using its 250MHz processors.

The new processor module is intended to support enterprise and high-performance computing environments. Pricing information was not provided. The module is available now.

--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

Sun extends workgroup server line

Boston (February 24, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. is extending its workgroup server line with two entry-level systems for small businesses.

The Sun Enterprise Ultra 5S has a 270-MHz, 64-bit RISC UltraSparc processor, 512 megabytes of memory and 4.2 gigabytes of storage. The Enterprise 10S has a 300-MHz 64-bit RISC UltraSparc processor and the same amount of memory and disk space as the Ultra 5S. Both run on the Solaris operating system.

Both servers have PCI buses that can handle up to 300 megabytes of data per second, and they also have 10/100BaseT Ethernet capabilities. Solaris Web Start, or World Wide Web-based installation software, is included in the servers.

The Ultra 5S will sell for $3,795 and the Enterprise 10S for $5,995. Both systems are available now.

--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

JavaOne: Sun to expand Java distributed computing effort

Tokyo (February 20, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. at the JavaOne developers conference next month in San Francisco, will likely detail Java developments that advance the company's goal to provide the base pieces for building vast distributed systems, Sun officials told IDG News Service in recent interviews.

The development expands upon ongoing work on Java object repositories called JavaSpaces and attempts to unite several other key Java technologies allowing the entire Internet to become a giant virtual machine with millions of devices working together, Sun officials said.

At JavaOne, Sun is expected to announce new components to the Java platform called "Jini," which provide interfaces that enable networked devices to be represented as "services" accessible by other devices connected to the network, officials said.

An external disk drive, for instance, under the Jini system would be represented by an object that describes what the drive does and how another devices can access the drive over a network, said a Sun official who preferred not to be named.

Those "services" could be anything from a peripheral to a composite of separate pieces of hardware, applications and services, snapped together by a third party and offered as a single service on the network, officials said.

The match making of services is carried out by a JavaSpace which is an object repository that enables applications and hardware to share work and results over a distributed environment.

Though officials did not detail the technology underlying Jini they emphasized the system will not be a Sun product but rather a specification the company hopes will become a de facto standard that vendors will build into their devices and applications. The Jini work has particular relevance for the builders of computer components, peripherals and appliances and Sun has already shared some of the work with close partners.

"Every major consumer electronics company in the world knows about this," one Sun official said.

The Jini system is part of a long-term distributed systems project from the mind of Sun co-founder Bill Joy that takes today's conceptualization of a computer -- a self-contained box with a processor, memory and storage and screen - and spreads it over the network. The work aspires to turn the network into a vast computer with a multiplicity of devices, applications and services that are all somewhere out on the network but can be easily accessed by a user without regard to physical location of the devices, officials said.

"The goal is to change the way people think about computers from an assembly of pieces at one point in time with certain functionality that can never be changed to, instead, a dynamic assembly of capabilities and services [out on the network]," a Sun official said.

Sun believes their Java distributed systems work has broad implications, even providing future virtual marketplace for services, officials said.

For example, if today a consumer wants to store episodes of the popular U.S. television program the X-Files, he or she must tune television at the time of the show's broadcast and tape the show with a VCR connected to the television. All of the devices are in one place and directly managed by the viewer.

According to Sun's vision, that entire process could be performed on the network by providers of specialty services: a provider of the X-Files show itself and separate provider of storage for viewers that want to watch the X-Files on demand.

The role of Jini is to define certain characteristics of the services and how others, like the viewer, can access them over the network. The X-Files provider might be represented by an object that describes his services as one that, the storage provider might be described as a RAID system that specializes in archiving television programs

Sun officials will also outline an evolution of a Jini marketplace, a virtual market where services can be offered for money and where third parties might combine multiple Jini services in Lego system type fashion into new services. Under that scenario a provider might create a service that brings together the RAID storage specialist with the X-Files specialist.

--Rob Guth, IDG News Service



Sun steps up 3-D Java development, joins VRML Consortium

San Mateo, CA (February 19, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. will try to push Java further into the graphics arena by integrating its Java 3D application programming interface (API) with the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), the company said yesterday.

Sun, which joined the VRML Consortium as a voting member yesterday, announced plans to release a Java-based VRML 97 "time-zero" geometry loader and VRML browser tool later this year, company officials said. VRML 97 is the standard for encapsulating, delivering, and playing interactive 3-D graphics on the Web.

The geometry loader and browser tool will be part of the utility library that will accompany a sample implementation of Java 3D API 1.0, which is due within 60 days. The sample implementation will use the Java Development Kit 1.2 for Microsoft Windows 95, Windows NT, and Sun Solaris operating systems.

Sun and the VRML Consortium will establish a Consortium working group charged with integrating Java 3D and VRML. Any proposed changes to facilitate that integration would be subject to the VRML Consortium's open review and voting process.

"The Java 3D API and VRML are already extremely synergistic," said VRML Consortium President Neil Trevett. "The deployment of 3-D content on the Web will be accelerated by ensuring these two standards evolve by cooperation rather than competition."

--Bob Trott, InfoWorld Electric

APRICOT: Sun's Gage sees a taxing fate for Internet

Tokyo (February 18, 1998) -- A top Sun Microsystems Inc. official said here today that the White House policy on Internet commerce is on the right track, but he warned the Asia-Pacific Internet community that governments and the groups that influence them still have some distance to go in understanding the Internet.

As presented by Ira Magaziner, a senior advisor to U.S. President Clinton, the U.S. would appear to have a unified view that the Internet should remain unfettered by governments, said John Gage, chief scientist at Sun. The reality, he said, is that many politicians, law enforcers, and trade unions may not be so supportive of leaving the freewheeling network of networks uncorralled.

Gage was speaking in a keynote speech following Magaziner's opening address this morning at the first day of the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT), taking place here this week.

Drawing on a Clinton administration policy announced in July, Magaziner proposed a world in which governments should not regulate the Internet but rather empower people to protect themselves. The plan calls for leaving issues such as privacy protection to the private sector while keeping the Internet free of taxes or tariffs.

Though Gage agreed with Magaziner in principle -- between speeches he gave Magaziner a lei of jasmine flowers as a gift recognizing his efforts -- he told the audience that the Internet is still a mystery to many of the world's policymakers.

Underlying Gage's argument is the assumption that the Internet is changing the world in unknown, and thus frightening, ways. "We are undermining things, and we don't know what direction it will go," he said. "You are scaring people," he told the audience, which consisted mostly of regional Internet service providers.

The response by those outside the Internet community -- such as members of the U.S. Congress -- is to pass laws in order to assert some sort of control, Gage said. The Internet, unlike many technologies and industries, he said, is virtually unregulated and therefore is viewed by some as disruptive to existing systems of government and taxation.

Magaziner is traveling the globe proposing a policy of no new taxes for the Internet. In the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere, however, governments of developing countries may feel that their economies will see healthier growth through the imposition, rather than avoidance, of taxes. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week said that, unlike the U.S., his country does not have the funds to build its infrastructure and must consider taxing the Internet, said Gage.

Gage pointed out that governments historically have been creative in raising revenues, imposing taxes on income, electricity, televisions, windows, cigarettes and luxury cars. Such costs inevitably will find their way onto the Internet, he said.

The Internet is likely to see governments intervening for other reasons as well, Gage said, alluding to technologies that might allow the tracking of U.S. forces into Iraq if the conflict in the Persian Gulf escalates. "Not only are they worried about taxes," he said, "they are worried about military security."

Calls to regulate the Internet also could come from outside the halls of government, as trade unions become anxious about the possibility of job losses resulting from commerce moving to the Internet, he said.

Gage urged the members of the audience to counter these social and governmental impulses by speaking out to policymakers like Magaziner. The Internet community should strive to reduce everyone's level of fear, he said.

"The foundation rule in all of this, of course, is that technology is easy," he said. "People are hard."

To win people over, he said, the Internet community needs to welcome more schools, teachers, and parents online. Gage urged audience members to read the Clinton administration's stance on electronic commerce and then e-mail opinions on the future of the Internet to Magaziner.

"Everyone here has to read the paper and send at least one sentence to Ira," he said. "Who else is going to say what should be done?"

--Rob Guth, IDG News Service

Sun enters CompactPCI market with two new embedded-board computers

San Francisco (February 18, 1998) -- Today Sun announced its entry into the CompactPCI market with two embedded-board computers, the CP1200 and CP1500.

With the CP1200 and CP1500 Sun says it plans to target voice switching, advanced intelligent networks, adjunct processors, computer telephony integration, integrated voice response, and industrial automation and control applications.

Sun is positioning the new products as part of its "Webtone" initiative. The goal of Sun's "Webtone" is delivery of reliability, predictability and performance on the Web in a manner similar to the never-ceasing dialtone heard when picking up a telephone.

--Stephanie Steenbergen


Sun introduces developer kit to speed development of Solaris on Intel

San Francisco (February 18, 1998) -- Today Sun announced a Solaris Intel Developer Kit designed to speed up development of Solaris-on-Intel applications.

This follows Sun's December 1997 agreement with Intel to port Sun's Solaris operating environment to Intel's promised Merced processor.

With the kit, Sun says developers will be able to develop applications that can easily be tuned for Solaris on Merced when it becomes available.

Sun is giving the kit for free to the first 1,000 members of its Catalyst Developer program. Pricing for the kit has not yet been set. The kit contains Solaris 2.6, Visual WorkShop C++, Java WorkShop, and JavaStudio. The kit also contains Solaris Intel device driver updates and provides a development environment for recompiling and porting applications.

"We placed information about this kit on our Web site last Thursday, and in 24 to 36 hours we had over 1000 takers, and now it's around 2000," said Brian Gentile, Sun's vice president of market development and software services.

Sun and Intel also will announce plans to open five competency centers around the world to assist developers in recompiling SPARC-based Solaris appliations to run on Intel Merced and porting other applications from other platforms to Solaris on Intel.

--Stephanie Steenbergen


A visit to Sun's usability testing labs

San Francisco (February 11, 1998) -- Jakob Nielsen, distinguished engineer at Sun's Science Office, invited SunWorld to tour Sun's usability testing labs and to discuss the importance of usability testing.

Sun has done extensive usability testing not only on its own software and Web site, but also on competitors' software as well. Sun recently redesigned its Web site with a focus on increasing download speed, facilitating navigation, providing a unified visual appearance, and making search capabilities more prominent. Nielsen says that a lot of work was particularly done on Sun's product documentation site,, to make it much more search oriented.

He says that although a company as large as Sun has the resources to spend on usablilty testing, even small companies without a large budget ought to do it. "If you don't have a lab you can have two people sit with a user in a normal office." According to him, more than two observers in this situation creates chaos.

Nielsen led the way into a dimly lit room that looks like a recording studio sound booth. A one way glass mirror spans the length of one wall. The mirror faces a room with a large table and a lone computer.

"We always take the users into this room first," says Nielsen. "That way they don't wonder what's behind the mirrors." The room also houses a row of a half dozen television monitors connected to video cameras in the observation room that are suspended from the ceiling at different angles.

According to Nielsen, a paper prototype is the best way to begin designing a site. He describes it as a big sheet of paper with a drawing of the Web page. He says, "You ask a user what he would click on first and what he would expect to see when he clicked on it."

He recommends that companies go through two or three rounds of testing for each product developed. He says it is best to test up to five users -- individually, not in a group -- in each round of testing. Some companies are known to spend thousands of hours testing hundreds of users. "It's impossible to create a perfect user interface," says Nielsen. He stresses that rather than testing many users, "more rounds of testing is what's really important." Fix the problems found in the first round of testing and then move on to the next round, and so on.

Nielsen says good usability testing involves three key elements:

What do Web users want out of a Web site? Nielsen recommends that Web architects minimize the artistic element of a Web site. Less graphics create higher speed. "People's patience is going down," says Nielsen. "Web users are extremely aggressive when demanding speed."

Nielsen also cautions Web designers who limit their sites' links to information contained only within the site. "The goal in designing a Web site is not to trap the user." The goal is to maximize value and "make them want to come back."

--Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld


Sun pushes Java's performance, browser independence

Tokyo (February 4, 1998) - Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java platform is expanding from its desktop success into a multiplicity of consumer devices, and several forthcoming products from Sun will speed that movement, one of the company's top technologists said at the Net + Com show here today.

With 70 million PCs now using Java technology, the platform has already succeeded on the desktop, said Jim Mitchell, vice president, architecture & technology at Sun and a Sun Fellow. Now is the time for Java to move into cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and a range of embedded applications, Mitchell said.

"It's early days for Java in that market, but Java is doing very well," he added. Mitchell pointed to the market's potential, quoting figures that predict the market for embedded systems will grow from US$203 million this year to $285 million in 2000.

The keynote speech Mitchell delivered here, titled "Japan is on the Road to Java," is part of a growing push by Sun to entice Japanese hardware, industrial and consumer electronics vendors to integrate Java technologies into their systems.

Mitchell drew attention to Sun's Java Activator, an upcoming product from the company. When downloaded, Activator can detect which version of the Java interpreter -- the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) -- is running on a client and offers users the option of downloading the latest version of the JVM from Sun.

The product, which was announced in December of last year and will be included in Sun's JumpStart package shipping in March, erases the need for Java to be bundled into World Wide Web browsers, Mitchell said. Even if Sun rival Microsoft Corp. bundles its own version of the Java interpreter, users will be able to download the most up-to-date JVM from Sun, he said.

"We are no longer dependent on having the Java Virtual Machine included in the browser," he said.

Mitchell said Activator is part of Sun's efforts to raise the performance of Java while increasing its stability and lowering the time to market for Java products.

In Asia, Sun will ship localized versions of the company's Java Developer Kit (JDK) 1.1.6 in "any Asian language," Mitchell said. In Japan, in JDK 1.2, shipping later this year, Sun will also provide anti-aliased fonts for displaying kanji characters more clearly, he said.

Other figures Mitchell cited as proof of the success Java has achieved since the technology begun to take off three years ago include:

--Rob Guth, IDG News Service

Sun claims the prize as number one Unix workstation seller

San Francisco (February 1, 1998) -- According to new figures from research firm International Data Corp., Sun remains the number one Unix workstation vendor, but the number of workstations the company ships is slipping.

Sun is cited as the number one Unix workstation seller. It shipped 285,815 units, which made up 43 percent of the Unix workstation sales in 1997. Sun's workstation sales, however, declined 3.3 percent in unit terms.

Hewlett-Packard was the second largest Unix workstation seller with 16 percent of total sales. HP's total workstation sales were larger in number than Sun's because of the NT portion of its business. HP shipped a total of 330,559 units (Unix and NT). HP's workstation sales growth rate for 1997 was 43 percent.

The research also noted the explosive 80 percent growth in NT shipments over 1997 compared with a decline of seven percent for Unix.

The IDC data reported that Hewlett-Packard has the largest portion of the NT market with 17.2 percent of workstation units sold. Compaq Computer Corp. sold 15.5 percent of workstation units. And Dell Computer Corp. was number three with 9.9 percent of workstations sold.

--Stephanie Steenbergen


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