New Tcl scripting product group spun out of Sun Labs
SunScript group makes beta code of new Tcl core platforms and Tk toolkit available, plans Web server as alternative to SNMP
San Francisco (June 1, 1997) -- After hiring its creator away from the University of California at Berkeley and "informally" supporting the Tcl (tool command language) scripting language for three years, Sun has created a new SunScript business group to develop a suite of Tcl-related products.
Last week the group released beta code of the next version of the Tcl scripting language and the Tk GUI toolkit. Tcl 8.0 includes a new byte-code compiler "that will give about a factor of two to a factor of 10 increase in performance," according to Sun distinguished engineer and Tcl creator John Ousterhout. The new version of Tcl also boasts a namespace mechanism, a "binary" command for manipulating binary strings, and a random number generator, as well as "numerous bug fixes." The Tk 8.0 toolkit's "native look and feel on Windows and Macintosh platforms is much much better," says Ousterhout, "they really look like native applications now."
Tcl and the Tk toolkit are free, but SunScript has already released two bona fide products -- a plug-in module, called Tcl Plugin, that allows you to run Tcl scripts within a browser, and SpecTcl 1.0, which is a GUI builder that SunScript intends to expand into a full-fledged development environment, complete with debugger, menu editor, and such. Ousterhout says that his group is also developing an alpha version of a Tcl/Tk Web server that will be aimed at OEM-type customers. He sees the server being added on to managed devices over a network, which would then use Tcl scripts as an alternative to SNMP -- intelligently reporting management information to a central management console.
Ousterhout says that Tcl is particularly suited for this type of application because it "was designed from the beginning to be embeddable." A Tcl interpreter can be dropped into an application, and the basic features of the application are added to the Tcl interpreter. The advantage of this, says Ousterhout, is that "you don't have to foresee every use of your application." He adds, "you can build the fancy functions on top of [the basic features] in Tcl. You could add new scripts to build features later on."
Raj Melville, a senior product manager with DynaWeb, says his team decided to use Tcl scripting commands within their DynaWeb publishing server because of its extensibility and ease of use. "In using Tcl," he says, "you could essentially develop and reconfigure our DynaWeb running on one platform and be assured that if you literally copied those configuration files over to another platform they would run without having to worry about it." As for Tcl's ease of use, Melville says "It doesn't take more than 24 hours to pick it up and get yourself running."
Not surprisingly, SunScript's long-term plans involve Java. Ousterhout predicts that tools for building a Tcl interpreter on top of Java are about a year away. Once that is completed the next step would be to hook this technology up with the Java Beans Component mechanism to create an easy-to-use but powerful Java development environment. Comparing this future product to Sun's current Java development offerings, Ousterhout remarks, "What our stuff will do is fall somewhere in the middle, where it will be much easier to program than Java WorkShop and provide more power than Java Studio." Following this, SunScript intends to write a Tcl interpreter in the Java language (presently it's written in C) so Tcl scripts could run in Java-only environments like the JavaStation.
The SunScript group currently has a staff of "about 12" but is growing to 25 "as soon as possible," according to Ousterhout. Like SunLabs, SunScript falls under the domain of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Chief Technology Officer organization, which continues to seek a replacement for its former leader, Eric Schmidt.
The SpecTcl 1.0 development tool runs on Solaris, SunOS, Linux, Windows 95, NT 3.51, MacOS, and Irix. It costs $150. A ten seat Tcl Plugin license costs $1,000 and is available for Solaris 2.x, Mac, Windows NT, and Windows 95. Ousterhout says that the plan "is to keep the core Tcl and Tk facilities free and open" and, no, they will not change the Tcl name to SunScript. "It would be a bad idea to use a name for them that appears to tie them to any particular vendor," he says in a statement.
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