The latest tidbits on Sun deals and product news

August  1998
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Sun's chief technical officer promoted to vice president

San Francisco (August 19, 1998) -- Sun's chief technical officer, Michael Splain, was today doubly honored. First, Splain was promoted to vice president, and second, Splain was appointed to the position of Sun Fellow.

According to Sun, only five other Sun employees share the title of Sun Fellow. Besides Splain, the group includes James Gosling, Rob Gingel, Jim Mitchell, Bob Sproull, Ivan Sutherland, and Greg Papadopolus.

Splain is best known for his work on Sun's SPARC processor; He joined Sun in 1988 as diagnostics manager for Sun's new high-end server product lines. Before Sun, Splain worked as an engineer at Ridge Computers, Vitesse Semiconductor, Encore Computer Corp., and Digital Equipment Corp.

Sun did not outline new responsibilities or changes in his current job.

--Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld

Sun Web guru forms Web site usability company

San Francisco (August 12, 1998) -- Sun Distinguished Engineer and noted Web design expert Jakob Nielsen has left the company to form a start-up. Created in partnership with Hewlett-Packard executive Donald Norman, the Nielsen Norman Group will provide training and consulting services focusing on Web site and software design.

Nielsen says he formed the company primarily -- and counter-intuitively -- because computers themselves are becoming less and less important to what Nielsen terms "the network economy."

"Technology is...relatively unimportant," says Nielsen. Both Nielsen and Norman feel that if a product is designed well, the technology behind it is of no consequence to the user.

Though the company will not actually design Web sites or products, Nielsen says that Nielsen Norman will focus its energy on two main areas.

First, they hope to teach Web design principles to corporate customers. As time passes, Nielsen estimates, the user interface will become of even greater importants to Web businesses. "Your store front, sales people, service department, and product itself are online. In many cases, at the end of the day the Web site becomes the shop experience." If the interface doesn't work well for the customer, notes Nielsen, "it's as if the sales people, and the customer service department are grumpy and unwilling to serve the customer."

Nielsen Norman will also provide usability testing to information applicance companies. Nielsen blames today's consumer device manufacturers for making some products, the VCR for example, far too difficult to use: a wrong he hopes to right with his consulting services.

"We started this weekend, so we're very new," says Nielsen. "So far it's going very well. The e-mail doesn't stop." He says their customers already range from secret federal government laboratories to newspapers.

For Nielsen, the foci he and Norman have selected for their company are "really very serious." He says, companies are not going to survive in the network economy if they don't pay attention to usability. "Usability used to be a speciality or niche job inside computer companies. To me its become a core competency to how business is going to operate."

--Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld staff


Sun teams with Wingra Technologies to increase popularity of Sun Internet Mail Server

San Francisco (August 11, 1998) -- Sun and Wingra Technologies today announced the expansion of a partnership where Wingra will supply Sun with gateways and migration technology to Sun's Sun Internet Mail Server (SIMS) software.

Sun Internet Mail Server software is billed by Sun as being a highly scalable client/server Internet mail product that is created for enterprises or large ISP operations.

Sun's agreement with Wingra will allow SIMS to be integrated with other e-mail programs such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, and Novell GroupWise using Wingra-created gateways. Currently SIMS is able to integrate only with Microsoft Mail, Lotus cc:Mail, and IBM PROFS e-mail programs.

A gateway is a software program that attempts to provide a sort of lingua franca for two different e-mail programs. Jan Eddy, Wingra's president, says Wingra's gateways differ from typical gateways. "Normally information has to go from a to b and from b to c. Then you need two gateways. With Wingra's gateway implementation the information is going from a to c; it only gets converted once," she says.

The first release as a result of this expanded agreement will be available for customers in late 1998.

Julie Saffren, senior programs manager for SIMS at Sun, says Sun has been working with Wingra for three years in a smaller capacity. She says Sun is expanding its relationship with Wingra because the market for a product like SIMS is hot right now.

Eddy says the market for an e-mail program like SIMS is hot, in part, because of the ever-looming year-2000 issues businesses are facing, which are driving many business to begin migration off of old e-mail programs.

Because SIMS is year-2000 compliant, customers are looking at it favorably. Sun estimates that there are 10 million users of older, non-Y2K compliant Lotus Notes and cc:Mail. "Sun sees them as a valuable customer base for migration," Saffren says.

Many companies don't wish to migrate from old to new. A large portion of those companies are faced with a different issue: juggling multiple e-mail programs that don't interoperate well together.

Sun's Saffren says that it is relatively common for large businesses to have two or three different e-mail programs running at once. She says, in this case, SIMS is useful in providing what Sun calls connectivity services. "It's really important to keep all those systems working well together. SIMS keeps disparate messaging systems functioning together."

--Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld staff


Sun announces Free Solaris program

San Francisco (August 10, 1998) -- Sun today announced plans to release a free version of its Solaris operating system to academic and non-commercial users.

For the cost of the CD, shipping, and handling -- about $35 according to Sun officials -- Sun will ship you a basic version of Solaris 2.6 for either desktop or server. Sun says that, except for the price, the free version will be identical to the base versions of Solaris it currently sells for about $400 (desktop) and $700 (server). The licenses may be obtained through an expanded Sun Developer Connection program.

Brian Croll, director of product marketing for Solaris, says Sun hopes to steer new developers toward Solaris by making it freely available.

"This is for folks who teach a course and do research," says Croll. "We want to make it easy to get a hold of Solaris for things like this."

While some universities had historically been able to negotiate special Solaris licensing agreements, Croll says that this cost was a "significant hurdle for someone who really wanted to fool around with Solaris." Free Solaris, he adds, "will give people an option to play with a world class environment."

By offering Solaris free to a large portion of the Unix developing population, does Sun hope to re-route young developers who might be considering a future developing on the Windows platform? "With Microsoft, we see it losing momentum as far as innovation goes," says Croll. "Sun sees innovation taking place, one, on Internet, and two, with Java. Leading edge work is not being done on the Windows platform."

Sun says the software will be free to freeware hackers, students, and universities that want it for educational purposes. So a school could run its computer science department on Free Solaris, but not its accounting system. The software is not free for corporate developers.

Free Solaris software is available in both x86 and UltraSPARC versions. There are no plans to make Solaris source code freely available, according to Sun officials.

--Robert McMillan & Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld staff


JavaOS for Business available, but not for the JavaStation

San Mateo (August 5, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems and IBM today delivered their collaborative JavaOS for Business, a centrally managed Java objects server platform designed to link and serve NCs and various Java-enabled devices in the enterprise.

Available now, the Intel-only JavaOS for Business includes development tools, an OEM adaptation kit, device drivers, beefed-up server-side management software, and testing and certification programs for the platform.

The ability to meaningfully use the Java-based system, however, is still a number of months off. The product is being offered initially only on Intel-based, x86 devices. It won't be aligned with Sun's JavaStation and IBM's Network Station until early next year. Support for other platforms and chips sets would be forthcoming, said officials, declining to be more specific.

The current release -- which will be upgraded when the next Java virtual machine (JVM), Version 1.2, arrives in November -- is now expected to spur the development of hardware devices, drivers, and vertical applications that can take advantage of Java, server-driven platforms. The client side of the offering requires at least eight megabytes of space on the client hardware.

IBM and Sun -- along with supporters BEA, Lotus, Netscape, Oracle, SAS, Tivoli, Informix, Computer Associates, Applix, Cloudscape, Nemasoft, and Sybase -- expect ISVs and hardware makers to quickly line up behind the new network operating system.

By releasing an OEM developer's kit and signing licensees not currently committed to producing NCs, the JavaOS partners are broadening the platform's focus and bringing it into more direct competition with Microsoft's Windows CE, according to one observer, who asked not to be named.

Another analyst, J.P. Morgenthal, president of NC Focus, in Hewlett, New York, said: "This is really not about the business desktop any longer. This is to get buy-in from the automatic teller machine makers, handhelds, and point of sales terminals."

"The message is they haven't given up on the enterprise, but it's less likely to be successful so they will go after the market for the extensibility of applications."

IBM and Sun officials today said they don't expect JavaOS for Business to drive PCs off of desktops, but do expect it to become the coordinating factor behind transaction-intense terminal-type devices like NCs and myriad vertical industry devices, including input and output devices, point of purchase devices, as well as wireless handhelds.

"The whole idea is not to push a general-purpose PC off the desktop. [Win32 PCs] will continue to grow and prosper. But in a bunch of very interesting -- and very big -- vertical markets there are devices not well served by that model," said Jim Hebert, general manager of consumer and embedded systems at Sun.

One of the first targets is the retail sector, IBM officials said, as well as for kiosks and Internet-commerce vending outlets such as ticket machines. Sun and IBM on today mentioned Toshiba and Fujitsu as OEMs building such devices.

The companies had no benchmarks on the server's scalability, though officials said it would be adaptable to the types of uses enterprises sought.

The latest JavaOS for Business feature set includes easier systems management, remote administration of thin-clients, tools, and APIs for server-side management of JavaOS clients (both OS and applications), a device driver interface for creating platform-independent drivers, and leverage of JavaBeans interfaces for managing device drivers.

Additional management improvements include the ability to reconfigure JavaOS systems without rebooting.

KeyLabs, which currently administers the testing and certification of Java applications, will also offer JavaOS conformance testing and certification, while IBM through its seven Java Solution Studio centers will offer training and pretesting.

The JavaOS for Business marketing strategy also includes vertical industry education and support programs.

JavaOS for Business supports Version 1.1.4 of the Java Development Kit (JDK), as well as Windows NT and Solaris servers, and provides international language support, according to the companies.

--Ted Smalley Bowen and Dana Gardner InfoWorld


Novell taps Sun's Bill Joy for board of directors

San Francisco (July 28, 1998) -- Novell Inc. said today it has appointed Bill Joy, co-founder and vice president for research at Sun Microsystems Inc., to join the networking software company's board of directors.

Joy and Eric Schmidt, Novell's chairman and chief executive officer, were long-time colleagues at Sun before Schmidt left the firm in April 1997 after 14 years.

Joy is regarded by some industry observers as an Internet pioneer for his work as principal designer of the University of California, Berkeley version of Unix, the networking protocols and implementations of which helped spawn the Internet. He is currently leading Sun's Jini project, which aims to simplify the access and delivery of network services.

Joy's appointment to the board is the second this month for Novell. It follows the July 21 appointment of Reed E. Hundt, a principal of consulting firm Charles Ross Partners and former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Novell said.

--James Niccolai, IDG News Service


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