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

arnold at skeeve.com arnold at skeeve.com
Wed Sep 13 17:30:22 AEST 2017

And buried in this story is another reason Unix / BSD people went with
Sun --- (if you had the licenses) they would give you source! Even for
educational institutions, where I mostly worked, getting source out of
DEC / IBM / HP was essentially impossible.


"Steve Johnson" <scj at yaccman.com> wrote:

> Funny.  From the outside I had a rather different view of why Sun was
> successful.
> In 1986 I came to CA to work for what became Ardent/Stardent.  We
> made the decision to go with Sun disc-less workstations.  They got us
> more computing power, on paper, for less $$.
> Roughly a quarter of the machines shipped to us were DOA.  When we
> got them running, the OS had a memory leak and needed to be rebooted
> several times a day.  The NFS server had the delightful property of
> sometimes inserting 1024 zeros into a file it was writing or
> serving.    (It was so bad that we hacked the OS to check every
> executable for 0-blocks in the instruction space and refuse to run
> it.  This was especially true for the MIPS cross compiler -- 0 was a
> NOP on the MIPS, and encountering a block of zeros caused execution to
> slide down a slippery slope of NOPs into the middle of some other
> routine with a different stack layout, where it proceeded to do the
> most mysterious things...)
> We would go out to lunch every day and trash talk Sun up one side and
> down the other.  And then we would go back to work and order more
> GIVE IT TO US.  The other manufacturers were selling application
> delivery vehicles rather than attempting to support software
> development.  Eventually we ironed out many of the issues (often by
> changing or hacking the code).  The only fly in the ointment was the
> service department.  Dealing with Sun customer service was like
> spitting into the wind.  We would report the same bug every week and
> they swore the bug had not been reported before.  The memory leak
> problem became so serious that we told them that we would only renew
> the service agreement if they would put a date when that would be
> fixed.  They refused to do so, and we canceled the service contract,
> bought a couple of extra Suns for spares, and heaved a sigh of relief.
> Steve
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Jon Steinhart" <jon at fourwinds.com>
> To:<tuhs at tuhs.org>
> Cc:
> Sent:Tue, 12 Sep 2017 08:35:24 -0700
> Subject:Re: [TUHS] Happy birthday, Dennis Ritchie! [ really sun vs
> dec/apollo --> X and NeWS ]
>  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 :-)
>  Jon

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