[TUHS] Happy birthday, Dennis Ritchie! [ really sun vs dec/apollo --> X and NeWS ]

Jon Steinhart jon at fourwinds.com
Wed Sep 13 01:35:24 AEST 2017

arnold at skeeve.com writes:
> In particular, the creation of NFS and then the efforts to make it into
> a de-facto standard (giving away the RPC and XDR code) was a HUGE thing.
> They weren't afraid to swim upstream, either. Even though NeWS never took
> off (even when combined with an X server), it was an interesting design,
> ahead of its time even.

It's interesting that you mention the two of these together.  It's my
opinion that the main reason that NeWS failed was because of the success
of NFS.

I recall that Apollo was really pissed off by NFS because they felt that
their token-ring network was better but lost because NFS was given away.
In hindsight, they were wrong; while the token-ring performed better in
large networks, the advent of switches made that moot.  In any case, when
NeWS was released nobody except Sun knew how to do the graphics (even
Adobe didn't know how to do it fast for display) and Apollo et. al. was
worried that Sun would give NeWS away and make it yet another de facto
standard a la NFS.  This led to the formation of the Hamilton Group which
was a thinly-disguised industry consortium that existed only for the
purpose of making sure that NeWS didn't succeed.

> DEC, IBM, and HP, all seemed to be playing follow the leader to Sun for
> many years.

I mentioned this to a lot of people after Sun died.  Few seem to realize
how much of what became PC manufacturing technology resulted from innovations
at Sun.

ron at ronnatalie.com writes:
> NeWS had serious issues.   However, the same guy who was the NeWS proponent
> learned from mistakes and the result was the must more successful Sun
> tehnology:   JAVA.

I'm going to take issue with the above.  NeWS had way fewer serious issues
than X.  It's main reason for failure was the coordinated effort to kill it
from others in the industry.  As the guy who single-handedly prevented X
from becoming an ANSI standard, I'd be happy to start another thread on
this topic if people are interested.  Part of the result of the Hamilton
Group effort was the misguided attempt to merge X and NeWS which was a
botched disaster.

Java is not the result of learning from mistakes in NeWS.  I have joked with
James that I feel that his legacy is being the person who first realizes that
technology is changing to the point where something can be done using an
interpreter.  If you look at his project history, he's done this many times.
I think that it's more accurate to say that Java is the result of a lifetime
of learning from interpreter projects.  I fully expect some new interpreter
to take over AWS sometime soon :-)


More information about the TUHS mailing list