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Solaris 2.5

The software behind the hardware

By Michael O'Connell

November  1995
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UltraSPARC's software "engine" (as SunSoft calls it) is the latest version of Sun's operating system -- Solaris 2.5. Here's a look at the highlights of the new OS, which includes the first major revision of NFS in seven years and takes advantage of the UltraSPARC architecture. SunSoft also introduced a new suite of development tools--WorkShop 2.0--that boasts improved performance, UltraSPARC-specific features, and automatic parallelization of C code. (1,100 words)

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The advent of UltraSPARC-based workstations brings with it a new version of SunSoft's operating system. In fact, the Ultra computers require Solaris 2.5, which is designed to take full advantage of the UltraSPARC's increased level of performance. "There's stuff in Solaris that makes UltraSPARC swing," says SunSoft president Janpieter Scheerder.

The new OS checks for the UltraSPARC. If it finds it, Solaris exploits the CPU's advanced features by using optimized math libraries and implementing UltraSPARC-specific algorithms that, aside from being tuned for multiprocessing and multithreading, are designed to keep all of the UltraSPARC's components as busy as possible.

"Better, faster, more reliable"
In addition to support for the UltraSPARC-based systems, Sun says Solaris 2.5 includes

SunSoft claims the Solaris threads implementation is the lightest weight in the industry, giving users the best performance available on uniprocessor and symmetric multiprocessing computers. And Solaris 2.5's "spring doors" dramatically speed up applications that use interprocess communication (IPC).

SunSoft also announced Solaris 2.5 for the PowerPC and Intel Pentium Pro processors.


New Network File System
NFS version 3 -- the first major upgrade to the NFS protocol in seven years -- offers safe asynchronous writes that improve performance, plus large transfer packet sizes that take advantage of the high-bandwidth, low-latency networks such as ATM and Fast Ethernet. The new version of NFS improves reliability over TCP/IP networks. Its improved NIS+ Password Update Daemon allows explicit changing of individual password repositories and thus can enforce full password aging. SunSoft notes that NFS boasts 8.5 million installed nodes worldwide, and is a component of SunSoft's ONC+, which has been licensed to HP, IBM, and Sequent. (See the SunWorld Online article "NFS gets revved in Solaris 2.5" for more details.)

Graphics and Imaging
Improved 3D functions are complimented by the addition of the Kodak Color Management System (KCMS 1.0) designed to ensure color consistency. XIL 1.2.1, an open imaging API, insulates application developers from hardware device changes.

XGL 3.2, Solaris' graphics foundation library for 2D and 3D applications development, is especially useful in applications such as MCAD/ECAD, animation, simulation, and modeling. XGL performance in Solaris 2.5 has improved by up to 8 percent over Solaris 2.4, and offers greater realism and performance through sophisticated algorithms that display raster text and vertex texture mapping.

Solaris 2.5 also sports PEX, an X Consortium standard extension of the X Window System server that lets users render 3D computer graphics in heterogeneous, networked environments.

SunOS 4.x support
An enhanced binary compatibility package (BCP) now handles SunOS 4.x applications that mix static and dynamic linking. Most SunOS 4.x shell scripts should run unchanged under Solaris 2.5. Solaris 2.5 also includes Bcopy support in libc for SunOS 4.x, so developers can easily migrate their applications to Solaris without rewriting large portions of code.

Testing 1, 2, 3
Solaris 2.5 is the most tested Sun operating system to date, says SunSoft, with more than 1,500 early access users and more than 500 ISV testers. It's expected to be available to all hardware and early OEM vendors later this month on SPARC and Intel; the PowerPC version began beta testing October 31, while beta testing for the other platforms began four or five months ago.

"We employed much more ambitious and extensive testing," notes Steve Mackay, vice president and general manager of SunSoft's Solaris Products Group. "We feel a lot more confident than we have in the past" about the operating system.

Solaris 2.5 will be available in 10 languages; upgrades from prior releases are available.

Developers not forgotten
SunSoft also announced a new release of its WorkShop development environment. WorkShop 2.0 (starting at $2,195 for C) lets developers take advantage of the UltraSPARC instruction set and highly pipelined architecture, including the Visual Instruction Set (VIS) for multimedia and video applications.

With WorkShop 2.0, SunSoft added a new optimized UltraSPARC version of its SunSoft Performance Library, plus enhanced versions of the SPARCworks/iMPact and SPARCompiler C that work together to automatically parallelize C code. The new extensions provide automatic performance improvements by employing several advanced optimization techniques including feedback profiling. Sun says the current compiler improves integer performance by 28 percent and floating-point performance by 52 percent on UltraSPARC; the next release of its compiler technology, which is currently in early access, boosts performance a bit more.

"A simple recompile -- with no modification in code -- is all that is required to significantly improve application performance," said Larry Weber, general manager and vice president of SunSoft Developer Products. SunSoft says that developers see performance benefits of up to 50 percent by simply relinking with these implementations.

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