Sun Microsystems

They make livable Unix WorkStations, but they aren't blinding fast. The company isn't really cool any more either. They are in charge of Java, the management of which has contributed to SunsLossOfCool?.

They used to have some really cool things, like the GT graphics sub-system (occupied a separate tower), and NeWS, the NetworkExtensibleWindowSystem (which also showed up in the PixarImageComputer and IrixOs before version 5), which they invented, based on DisplayPostscript.

Plus, for bonus points, they use the ForthLanguage in their boot monitor. You can take a fairly recent Sun (I think that OpenBoot started with the Sparc 1 machines) and write an OS from scratch, in forth, using only the boot monitor. In theory at least. I don't think anyone has actually tried, but I'm tempted to try it when my new Sun arrives.

Sun also does lots of cool stuff like supporting OpenSource like and, and really seems to be somewhat clueful when it comes to doing OO right.

-- But that's just my opinion. Disclaimer: I work for Sun.

Sun is the most forward-looking company out there; and the most likely to trip over their own shoelaces while looking forward. -- AnonymousDonor

Some say that Sun does not really do OpenSource a good service, e.g. by creating and using the SunCommunitySourceLicense?. - But that is just another opinion

Notice that JXTA is using the Apache License. And most of Jakarta is under traditional OpenSource or FreeSoftware licenses.

Everything in Jakarta is under the Apache license. That's what jakarta is. It is after all.

NetBeans is available under the Sun Public License. In Sun's own words, this is "a variation of the Mozilla Public License".

Anyone care to offer an explanation of what the MozillaPublicLicense? is, and how the SunPublicLicense? differs?

See: and

I don't think any discussion of SunMicrosystems is complete without mentioning that their primary business is selling you high price Unix workstations, albeit very good ones with high availability and stability. It is my belief that this also drives their software strategy. -- Sam G

ScottMcNealy would have to be crazy if that were not so.

SunRay? Discussion

Do you call the new SunRays? workstations? Do you call $999 "high priced" for something that thrashes similarly priced IntelArchitectureComputers??

First, the SunRays? aren't workstations. They are essentially glorified dumb terminals (and to my understanding they really are quite dumb, much more so than most XTerm style boxes). You are perhaps instead referring to the SunBlade? 100 (you certainly aren't referring to the SB1000, since that is nowhere near $999).

Second, I believe that Sam made that remark before the SB100 was available. Besides, the $999 price is only for the most basic machine. More memory and a better video subsystem are desperately needed, which can easily take the price to near $3k. Which is still far better than another traditional workstation vendor, and is nearly as good as the Apple machines are.

I have used X and VNC extensively, and also had a SunRay? on my desk for about six months for one job. I liked it quite well. Something I did not use in 2001 when I used a SunRay? was the JavaCard slot. This can be used to identify users, so you can take your session from terminal to terminal by taking a card.

Someone told me that a large (about 600 seat) call centre in Australia had been converted from using Windows PCs to SunRays?. The operators (I think it was a betting agency - big business down under) unexpectedly found the premises were much quieter and cheaper to air-condition. (They also found the system cheaper to own and run, but they were expecting that.)

SunRay?s are not meant to be used in a development environment, surely! The would be used in a corporate environment that has mostly laptops and workstations connected for general work activities. Email, word processing, browsing, central file archives, made simpler and easier. I do think, thou, it would have to take a big leap in mood and culture for it to work. No one 'owns' a workstation as such. JavaCards? are kinda neat thou. -- BiasedOpinion? SusanRoy

SunRay? Technical Discussion

The SunRays? use a proprietary protocol, but the effect is similar to having a terminal designed simply to use VNC (VirtualNetworkComputing) such as the AX3000. Unlike VNC the SunRay? protocol is not shared with the world at large. I believe SunRay? performs better than VNC if there are hundreds of terminals. It seems that the SunRay? protocol includes security as well as co-operation between session servers for network load balancing. VNC intentionally does not include these features in pursuit of simplicity and modularity.

The security of the SunRay? protocol is questionable. It does use encryption, but there's no evidence of there being any secret keys on neither the clients nor the servers. They could have used the password the user enters to set up a secure channel using a key exchange algorithm that uses a shared secret key (a so-called password) to provide mutual authentication and produces a session key as a side effect, but that doesn't seem to be the case either. If the protocol were known, the Ethernet MAC address or the SmartCard? ID of the session would probably be enough information to gain control over a disconnected session. Only allow access to your SunRay? server through a trusted network.

Unlike an X terminal, a SunRay? 'terminal' is essentially stateless: you can unplug it and power it down without losing your session. Turning on the terminal will normally re-connect you to your session without any further intervention, although you can configure the server to require re-authentication on re-connection.

The session resides on a server that is ideally on a LAN or VLAN dedicated to SunRay? traffic, although that might be less necessary these days. Our server ran a number of X11 sessions (Xsunray?) that looked just like ordinary X servers to our applications. I'm told you can do the same thing with Citrix and Tarantella to provide Windows desktops on SunRay? terminal.

See or for reverse-engineered information about the Sun Ray protocol.

See SunOne


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