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Sun Microsystems

Sun Microsystems Logo
Sun Microsystems Logo

Sun Microsystems is a Silicon Valley-based computer, semiconductor and software manufacturer.

Sun's products include computer servers and workstations based on the SPARC processor, the SunOS and Solaris operating systems, the NFS network file system, the Java platform, and (together with AT&T) the standardization of Unix System V Release 4. Its less successful ventures include the NeWS window system, the OpenLook graphical user interface, and Unix thin clients (diskless workstations).


Brief history

The console of a Sun workstation running the X Window System
The console of a Sun workstation running the X Window System

The initial design for Sun's UNIX workstation was conceived when the founders were graduate students at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The company name SUN originally stood for Stanford University Network (which is reflected in the company's stock symbol, SUNW). The company was incorporated in 1982 and went public in 1986. Founders include Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Bill Joy and Andy Bechtolsheim. Of these men, only McNealy and Bechtolsheim remain with Sun.

Other Sun luminaries include early employees John Gilmore and James Gosling. Bill Joy was invited to join when he was developing the BSD in UC Berkeley under the aegis of Ken Thompson initially. Sun was an early advocate of Unix-flavor of networked computing, promoting TCP/IP and especially NFS, reflected in the companys' motto "The Network Is The Computer". James Gosling and his fellows developed the Java programming language. Most recently, Jon Bosak led the creation of the XML specification at W3C.

Sun's logo, which features four interleaved copies of the word sun, was designed by professor Vaughan Pratt , also of Stanford University. The initial version of the logo was shown with its sides oriented horizontally and vertically, but it was subsequently altered to feature the logo appearing to stand on one corner.


Sun originally used the Motorola 68000 CPU family for the Sun 1 through Sun 3 computer series. Later, for the Sun 4 line (SPARCstation 1 onwards), Sun developed its own CPU architecture, SPARC, which employs an IEEE standard RISC architecture. Sun has implemented multiple high-end generations of the Sparc architecture, including Sparc-1, SuperSparc, UltraSparc-I, UltraSparc-II, UltraSparc-III, and currently UltraSparc IV. Sun also has a second line of lower cost processors meant for low-end systems which included the MicroSparc-I, MicroSparc-II, UltraSparc-IIi, and UltraSparc-IIIi. Sun has had a difficult time refreshing their high-end processor line-up at the same rate as some of their competitors, but their customer base had been loyal due to the dominance of the SunOS (and later Solaris) versions of Unix. For the first decade of Sun's history, the company was predominately a vendor of technical workstations.

In the late-1990s, as Sun's workstations were lagging in performance when compared to that of their competitors and especially to Wintel Personal Computers, the company successfully transformed itself to a vendor of large-scale Symmetric multiprocessing compute servers. This transition was enabled by technology that was acquired from Silicon Graphics and Cray Research. The Cray CS-6400 server line was transformed into the very successful Sun Ultra Enterprise 10000 mainframes.

For a short period in the late 1980s, they sold an Intel 80386 based machine, the Sun 386i. An x86 port of Solaris has been available since then. Currently, Sun is again selling x86 hardware and is expected to introduce a version of Solaris for AMD64 soon.

Throughout its history, Sun had several hardware based initiatives:

During the Workstation Wars of the 1980s, it was consistently the lowest cost vendor.

In the mid-1990s, it bought companies like Diba and Cobalt Systems to build network appliances (single function computers meant for consumers). When Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison criticized Microsoft-based personal computers for the lack of networked maintenance, Sun started selling a network computer (diskless workstation). Neither of these initiatives was very successful in the market.

In the late-1990s, Symmetric multiprocessing was highlighted to show capabilities beyond what was available on Intel-based servers. As web-browsing and database searching became prevalent among customers, blade servers (high density rack-mounted systems) were emphasized.

In 2004, Sun announced that it had cancelled two major processor projects which were emphasizing high ILP and high operating frequency. Instead, the company was going to concentrate on processor projects emphasizing multi-threading and multiprocessing. The company also announced it was collaborating with Fujitsu on using the Japanese company's processor chips in future Sun computers.

Operating systems

Solaris 8 with the Common Desktop Environment
Solaris 8 with the Common Desktop Environment

The Sun 1 was shipped with Unisoft V7 UNIX. Later in 1982 Sun provided a customized 4.1BSD UNIX called SunOS as an operating system for its workstations. In 1992, along with AT&T, it integrated BSD UNIX and System V into Solaris, which as a result is based on UNIX SVR4.

Sun is also known for community-based licensing of all of its major technologies including some open source publication. Though a late adopter, it has included Linux as part of its strategy - Sun has been facing tough times as Linux started eating away part of its server market. Recently though, Sun has been developing Linux-based desktop software called Java Desktop System (originally code-named 'Madhatter') for use both on x86 hardware and on Sun's SunRay thin-client systems. It has also announced plans to supply its Java Enterprise System (a middleware stack) on Linux, and to release Solaris under an open source license of some sort.

Java platform

The Java platform, developed in the early 1990s was specifically developed with the objective of allowing programs to function regardless of the device they were used on, sparking the slogan "Write once, run everywhere".

The platform consists of three major parts, the Java programming language, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), and the Java Application Programming Interface (API). The design of the Java platform is controlled by the vendor and user community through the Java Community Process (JCP).

The Java programming language is an object oriented programming language. Since its introduction in late 1995, it has become one of the world's most popular programming languages.

In order to allow programs written in the Java language to be run on (virtually) any device, Java programs are compiled to byte code. This can be read by any JVM, regardless of the environment.

The Java API provides an extensive set of library routines. The Standard Edition of the API is targeted at normal workstations, while Enterprise Edition is aimed at large software companies implementing enterprise-class application servers. The Micro Edition is used to build software for devices with limited resources, such as mobile devices.

Office suite

Sun bought StarOffice by acquiring the German software company StarDivision and released it as the office suite under both GNU LGPL and the SISSL (Sun Industry Standards Source License)., often compared with Microsoft Office (a Microsoft spokesman has stated it is comparable to Office 97), is available on many platforms and widely used in the open source community.

The current StarOffice product is a closed source product based on The principal differences between StarOffice and are that Sun supports it and it comes nicely packaged with extensive documentation, a wider range of fonts and templates and what Sun claim to be an improved dictionary and thesaurus. Whilst new releases of are relatively frequent, StarOffice follows a more conservative release schedule supposedly more suited to enterprise deployments.

See also

External links

Official Sun Information

General Unofficial Sun Information

Sun 3 Unofficial Information

Sun 2 Workstation

Sun Stories

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45