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TBTF for 1995-11-08: Java and UltraSPARC; plundering the Hermitage

Keith Dawson (dawson@atria.com)
Wed, 8 Nov 1995 21:20:21 -0500

Live from Sun's Vision 96 event in Menlo Park, CA: Java software and Ultra-
SPARC hardware. For the occasion Sun leased the bigtop and staff of Cirque
du Soleil (Sun, get it?), along with their lights, pyrotechnics, and puls-
ing music. There was a hot-air balloon. There was a live satellite feed to
15 sites around the world. It wasn't to Microsoft scale, but the level of
glitz was middling impressive.


Here's Bill Joy on what Java is. Java is "only":
A small, simple, safe, object-oriented, interpreted or dynamically optim-
ized, byte-coded, architecture-neutral, garbage-collected, multithreaded
programming language with a strongly typed exception handling mechanism
for writing distributed, dynamically extensible programs.
Sun is giving away the language and licensing its source. (Binaries, source,
and documentation fit on a single 1.4-MB floppy disk.) They will be testing
and branding other implementations of the language. (For earlier articles about
Java and HotJava, Sun's experimental Web browser implemented in the language,
see TBTF for 1995-08-25, 1995-07-23, and 1995-05-24.)

Like many of you I had associated Java only with its emerging and poten-
tial uses on the Web. In fact Java has a chance at displacing C++, C, and
Smalltalk in the development of commercial applications. (The threat to
Lisp is more distant, though Java has borrowed some of the better features
from it.)

Because Netscape supports Java, developers who write Java applets or apps
have a potential usership numbering in the millions today. At this confer-
ence two announcements magnified this number. (1) Spyglass has licensed
Java for its Mosaic products; and (2) Borland has licensed it in order to
develop a visual development environment for the language.

To kickstart the application universe Sun is sponsoring the Java Cup, a
contest with $1M (US) in prize money for the best Java apps in six cate-
gories. ("Java Cup" indeed. This brand name may contend with the I-Way
itself as a generator of bad analogies. Borland's development environment
is code-named "Latte," because it makes Java more palatable.) The prize
money is underwritten by Oracle and Netscape, among others.

What's the big deal about Java? For starters it represents the last best
hope against Microsoft rolling on to ultimate monopoly; Java lets a thous-
and flowers bloom. (For a cautionary perspective see James Gleick's arti-
cle from the 1995-11-15 NY Times, posted at
<http://www.around.com/microsoft.html >.) If someone writes a Java applet
that does the kind of sophisticated text and graphics layout that Microsoft's
Blackbird promises (see TBTF for 1995-11-03) and gives it away,
then the chances of HTML remaining viable increase dramatically. (Sun has
announced development of a graphical/interactive Web development
environment for delivery in 1H96; it may have some of Blackbird's features;
press release at
Before today I didn't give much credence to talk of the next Microsoft Office
being written as Java applets, but now I do.


Finally the iron is fast enough.

UltraSPARC is based on a new 64-bit chip and a supercomputer-like archi-
tecture. Each of 3 models seems to be, for now, the fastest in its class;
and prices are uniformly below the competition. They quoted a record float-
ing-point performance of 505 SpecFP92, edging out the corresponding model
DEC Alpha at a price about 20% lower. The integer performance of the top-
line model was quoted at 375 SpecInt92; but for integer they didn't show
a comparison to Alpha, so it's probably not as fast. The models all have
100-Mbit ethernet and a 1.3 GB/sec internal bus. There is 2D and 3D graph-
ics support in silicon as well as MPEG-2 (de)compression and a new memory
technique they call 3D-RAM. From the supercomputing world they've borrowed
the idea of a fast crossbar switch to shuttle data in parallel among CPU,
memory, I/O, and graphics processor. (Someone in the audience asked, and
Sun replied that decompressing MPEG-2 in software would require about 50%
of an Ultra-1's time and attention.)

There's a new instruction set in silicon that Sun calls VIS. Answering a
question, Sun said VIS is about 80 instructions, and provides hardware help
for a number of operations that are important in visual computiting. (Inter-
estingly, some of the VIS instructions can be used to speed up encryption/
decryption by overlapping four adds or multiplies in a single instruction.)
So what happened to the idea of RISC? Sun is moving away from it in
practice, as are all the other (what used to be called) RISC vendors.

Sun did side-by-side demos on stage using real apps against HP, SGI, and
DEC (winning, of course). Impressive as hell, basically. Showing off just
the networking speed, Sun demo'd full-resolution HDTV playback faster
than real time. In another demo they texture-mapped a live video feed
onto all 6 sides of a cube; set the cube to tumbling around in space with
three light sources -- specular reflection and all; and then began playing
with the cube's transparency setting. In the end they were whipping the
transparency from 100% to 1% and back as fast as the controls would allow;
and the UltraSPARC kept up.

UltraSPARC models range in price from about $15K to nearly $50K (US).

>>From Edupage (1995-11-08):

> Corbis Corp., the company Microsoft's Bill Gates created in 1989 to develop
> and market new uses for digital images, has reached an electronic rights
> agreement with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
> Corbis already has agreements with the National Gallery in London, the
> Bettman Archive, and various other major collections. (Atlanta Journal-
> Constitution 7 Nov 95 E2)

I intended this to be a single-topic issue of TBTF but could not resist pas-
sing on the latest adventure in Bill's lonely quest to control all of the
art in the world.


>>Edupage -- mail listproc@educom.edu without subject
> and with message: subscribe edupage <your name> .

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Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.


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