Sunday, March 15, 2015

Restrospecting: Sun slowly setting

I remember writing this entry a few years back (2010), but it appears I forgot to hit submit. Therefore, in the interests in completeness I'm going to post it even though it's 5 years old!


So the deal is done and Sun Microsystems is no more and I'm filled with mixed emotions. Let's ignore my role within Red Hat/JBoss for now, as there are certainly some emotions tied up in that. It's sad to see Sun go and yet I'm pleased they haven't gone bust. I have a long history with Sun as a user and, through Arjuna, as a prospective partner. When I started my PhD back in the mid 1980's my first computer was a Whitechapel, the UK equivalent to the Sun 360 at the time. But within the Arjuna project the Sun workstation was king and to have one was certainly a status symbol. I remember each year when the new Sun catalogue came out or we had a new grant, we'd all look around for the next shiney new machine from Sun. We had 380s, Sparc, UltraSparc and others all the way through the 1990's (moving from SunOS through to the Solaris years). The Sun workstation and associated software was what you asipired to get, either directly or when someone left the project! In fact the Arjuna project was renowned within the Computing Department for always having the latest and greatest Sun kit.

The lustre started to dim in the 1990's when Linus put out the first Linux distribution and we got Pentium 133s for a research grant into distributed/parallel computing (what today people might call Grid or Cloud). When a P133 running Linux was faster than the latest Sun we knew the writing was on the wall. By the end of the decade most Sun equipment we had was at least 5 years old and there were no signs of it being replaced by more Sun machines.

Throughout those years we were also in touch with Sun around a variety of topics. For instance we talked with Jim Waldo about distributed systems and transactions, trying to persuade them not to develop their own transction implementation for Jini but to use ours. We also got the very first Spring operating system drop along with associated papers. We had invitations to speak at various Sun sites as well as the usual job offers. Once again, in those days Sun was the cool place to be seen and work.

But that all started to change as the hardware dominance waned. It was soon after Java came along, though I think that is coincidental. Although Solaris was still the best Unix variant around, Linux and NetBSD were good enough, at least in academia. Plus they were a heck of a lot cheaper and offered easier routes to do some interesting research and development, e.g., we started to look at reworking the Newcastle Connection in Linux, which would have been extremely difficult to do within Solaris.

Looking back I can safely say that I owe a lot to Sun. They were the best hardware and OS vendor in the late 1980's and early 1990's, providing me and others in our project with a great base on which to develop Arjuna and do our PhDs. In those days before Java came along they were already the de facto standard for academic research and develpment, at least with the international communities with which we worked. I came to X11, Interviews, network programming, C++ etc. all through Sun, and eventually Java of course. So as the Sun sinks slowly in the west I have to say a thanks to Sun for 20 years of pleasant memories.

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