Where there is SPARC, there is fire

Web Glimpse (glimpse@XeNT.ics.UCI.edu)
Wed, 6 Jan 99 16:30:51 -0800

In case it's not already clear, stepwise.com should already be on
folks daily bit digests. It's the only place outside the Onion
you'll find such hardbitten pithiness as Bunker's Bunko below...

Personally, I only started reading today because I was on XeNT
trying to install webglimpse to offer a FoRK search engine. When the
build failed mysteriously, I recalled that DigitalLibrarian, the
grandaddy of all the WebCrawlers would index a local filesystem for
me quite happily!

So now I have an index and y'all don't :-)

When is someone going to ship a 'tractor beam search engine' that
you can run on one server and point at any ol' web site and suck
over the bits -- involuntary indexing?



Where there is SPARC, there is fire.
By: _Professor Ernst D. Bunker_
December 18, 1998

Recent developments in a former republic of Russia have forced me
to alter my travel plans, which left me with an extra half-hour or
so this morning to shed some light on a dark corner of the 'net.

Secret sources have finally revealed to Mac OS Rumors that there
are (gasp! the horror!) actual SPARCstations, from Sun Microsystems,
on the Apple campus running (shock!) MacOS X builds. This reminds
me of the game we used to play back in the good-old days with
planting double-agents in the East Block. We'd would feed Ivan stuff
out of the public libraries, so our guy could dig into the web of
trust. Life is so much more complicated now.

You should know that I want to believe. Really, I do. I'm a big fan
of the SPARC line of processors. I myself ran the NeXT Mach-based
OPENSTEP on a portable SPARC clone, hardened to military specs
against physical shock and EMP (electromagnetic pulse) three years
ago. The boys at the agency were so jealous.

Anyway, when I see the various speculation surrounding this
factoid, I'm reminded of an axiom which I use to open my
presentations at the NSA: "Data is not always Information". And to
think, I coined this back when there was no 'net. If I were a real
capitalist, instead of a warrior-pawn of the capitalist-imperialist
system, I'd be a millionare, retired, and living on a beach with
some beach bunnies somewhere. Perhaps in my next life I will be at
least a rook.

It should come as no surprise that SPARCstations hum with Mach
builds in the deep dark labs of the Apple campus. Of course, I can't
actually confirm or deny that they exist -- that would be telling.
However, I would be greatly surprised if there were secret plans to
market MacOS X for SPARC. Quite frankly, Apple hasn't made those
decisions yet, and is under no pressure to do so. All of the former
NeXT customers who ran OPENSTEP on SPARC hardware who might
otherwise be clamoring for such a port have long since switched to
Solaris or NT.

It is possible that options are being kept open by senior
management and the engineers, who realize that a portable OS is a
valuable asset which they should not squander by accident or
neglect. A few builds on SPARC now and then are enough to keep the
SPARC option open. It's also a long walk between running the OS on a
single box -- which an engineer can do in their spare time -- and
shipping a version of the OS for Sun and other SPARC-based hardware.
That requires a team of people, several months of effort, writing
and testing device drivers, etc. In any case, none of this requires
a secret plan to ship MacOS X for SPARC hardware (or the latest
generation, called "UltraSPARC") any time soon.

Of course, this assumes that the mole who saw these machines
accurately reported that they saw MacOS X/Apple Mach, and not
OPENSTEP/NeXT Mach, which could also be running on the machines.
They may have actually seen OPENSTEP/NeXT Mach and have been unable
to tell the difference.

Yet a quick slice at the situation with my trusty Occam Gold Cross
Pen disguised Switchblade and LASER pointer, a gift from my friend
James over at MI7, reveals the least-complicated explanation for the
presence of SPARCstations running MacOS X builds -- assuming they
exist. Apple is working to polish the SMP (symmetric
multi-processing) abilities of the Apple Mach kernel.

Sun makes excellent SMP machines, and if I were working on an SMP
kernel, that's what I would want to use. Runner up would be the
RS/6000, because of the common PowerPC heritage. I'd wager a guess
that they may have some of those running Apple Mach in Cupertino,
too. For those engineers into self-flagellation, there may even be
Intel Pentium-based SMP machines sitting around somewhere.

Yes, some of the SMP work is hardware-specific, but much of it is
abstracted away from the specific SMP implementation of the
hardware. There is, for example, a whole lot of BSD kernel code
sitting on top of Mach to be made thread-safe. Apple engineers can
make rather a lot of progress on SPARC, or wherever, before Apple's
own SMP hardware, presumed to be based on the upcoming G4 PowerPC
processor, is readily available.

Well, my secretary is nearly finished booking my next mission, uh,
trip, so I'd better get the lead out.

Dr. D. Bunker

Professor Bunker is a corporate intelligence analyst who
specializes in high technology companies. He relishes the occasional
opportunity to battle misinformation.