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

Larry McVoy lm at mcvoy.com
Wed Sep 13 02:57:45 AEST 2017

On Tue, Sep 12, 2017 at 08:35:24AM -0700, Jon Steinhart wrote:
> 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.

It was more than NeWS, it was anything Sun.  Here's how 100Mbit ethernet
happened because of Sun (well, really me and Andy) in spite of the "anything
but Sun sentiment":

Some background to go with what Jon said.  I was at Sun during this
time, Sun was on a roll, they kept innovating and other people were
playing catchup, mmap, vm layer that worked, VFS interface that worked,
NFS, etc.  Sun really was innovating back then and it left other people
behind and pissed.  They were especially pissed when Sun stuff became
a standard and they had to match it.  So they formed a loose cabal that
had the sentiment of "No more Sun wins".

At the time I was arguing for 100Mbit ethernet with little success.  The
hardware guys hadn't twigged to the idea that one base packet format
over a bunch of different speed cables is better than multiple packet
types that you have to rewrite.  When I asked for 100mbit over copper
they said it couldn't be done.

I was a systems guy at the time, building a clustered NFS server code
named sunbox.  Venders were constantly coming to me to pitch their stuff
to be included in my system (we did use Kalpana switches so one of the
pitches worked).  One day some dude from Crescendo shows up with a pitch
for something they called CDDI.  It was FDDI over copper at 100mbit.
I said wait here, went down the hall to Andy Bechtolsheim's office (I
had the good fortune to have an office next door to him, a little brag,
but I was living the dream!) got Andy and dragged him back to the meeting.
Asked the dude to do it again.  We thanked him and went back to our offices
and I ask Andy "You thinking what I'm thinking" because he knew about my
100Mbit ethernet dreams.  "Yeah, but there is the cabal problem".  We
knew about the anti Sun sentiment, wasn't much we could do about it, it
was just a problem we had to route around.

So what we did is a little road show in the valley.  The Crescendo guys
hadn't made us sign an NDA, their stuff was for sale already.  So we 
went to every hardware company in the valley that made network cards
and said "Did you know these guys are signalling at 100Mbit over copper?
Wouldn't it be cool if you made an ethernet card that did that?".

That was all it took, someone had a card about 6 months later and the
rest is history.  I'm sure it would have happened by itself at some
point, but Sun made that stuff happen as well.

They really were on a roll back then and in the hardware side it was
all Andy.  He was in his sweet spot which is anything that he can keep
the whole picture, all the details, in his head.  He's fantastic at that.
There is a story, no idea if it is true but it sounds like Andy, that
someone interrupted a meeting to tell him that the serial chip was going
to be like a buck or so cheaper.  There is this brief pause and then Andy
says "Cool, we'll use it for more pigment in the feet, I was wondering
where that would come from."

Fun times for sure!  I'm super super lucky to have been there and been
a part of it.  It wasn't Bell Labs when Dennis and Ken and team were 
making Unix, I would have loved to have been there but wrong age.
Sun was the Bell Labs of their time.  I fought hard to get in there 
and once I was in it was awesome.  Yeah, there were politics and all
the usual stuff, but I knew I was at the place that was leading and
I got to be part of it.  Living the dream for sure.


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