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Sun updates Solaris Express developer edition

Key tools to unlock greater chip performance

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Sun Microsystems has announced new functionality for Solaris Express Developer Edition. The OpenSolaris-based distribution targets developers for the Solaris OS, Java, and Web 2.0 with a set of products that are optimized for multi-core processor architectures and includes new compilers and development tools designed to assist developers in creating better applications more rapidly.

This new release features a modern GNOME-based desktop including Mozilla Firefox 2.0, Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0 beta 2, and StarOffice 8 update 6. In addition, this update includes NetBeans IDE 5.5 for the development of desktop, Web, and enterprise Java applications. Sun Studio 12 accelerates application performance with auto parallelizing C, C++, and FORTRAN compilers, support for the OpenMP 2.5 API, and a new capability to identify many common but difficult-to-detect multithreading issues, such as race and deadlock conditions at runtime.

The company stated that the Sun Studio 12 optimization techniques for x86 systems deliver up to 25 per cent better performance on compute-intensive benchmarks, and up to 80 per cent better performance for memory-intensive, industry-recognized benchmarks. Additional functionality includes new wireless drivers, the first phase of a project to configure network interfaces automatically, new Xorg server enhancements, and new X Window libraries, plus a DTrace provider to allow tracing X client applications. Solaris Express Developer Edition supports a variety of x86-based hardware, and has been optimized for Sun's 64-thread Niagara 2 processor. Solaris Express Developer Edition 5/07 is now available for immediate download. Sun Developer Expert Assistance is also available for developers to receive coding advice and learn best practices for development.

While it would be easy to view this announcement as simply the next iteration of an open-source project, there are a couple of nuggets that we see as more significant. Granted, this is an open-source project that targets the hearts and minds of application developers, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, what we find compelling is the focus on multithreading and wireless connectivity. Are the topics obscure oddities that only propeller-twirling geeks care about, or are these very practical and important considerations? We tend to think the latter.

Even in the purportedly well understood world of Windows-based laptops, configuring wireless connections still tends to be a hit-and-miss affair, and much more akin to miss when the user is in a rush to check for an important email at a previously unvisited location or network. In the Linux or UNIX world, such connectivity gambles are only more extreme. The fact that the Open Solaris community has decided to target this irritating issue is likely to be well received not only by developers, but also by the broader user community. It is also important for Sun to have addressed this basic issue so that developers do not have another reason to shy away from developing on the Solaris environment. Although, logically, wireless access for the end user should be as easy as wired connectivity, the reality is it is not the case as of yet. We believe efforts to automate this process are very important, and are encouraged that Sun and its open community partners believe so as well.

With all the advances in chip architectures from a variety of processor vendors, it has become difficult, if not almost impossible, to buy a new processor today that is not in some way multicore or multithreaded in design. Yet, at the same time, the fire-blazing performance of these processors in many cases is largely underutilized as the software being executed is still of single-threaded design. Developing multithreaded software is a non-trivial task that requires not only new developer knowledge and techniques, but also IDEs, compilers, and other technologies that are capable of creating multithreaded applications. In many cases, the paucity of such multithreaded tools has resulted in developers taking advantage of ever-faster chip clock rates, but none of the inherent parallel processing the hardware has to deliver.

This is where we believe the Sun Studio 12 tools will be of considerable interest in the developer community. These tools are the keys by which to unlock the latent multithreaded performance of the latest Sun, AMD, and Intel chips. The ability to automate created parallel or multithreaded code is important, as it should allow developers to easily capture some performance increase in their existing code base while they develop the skills and techniques requisite to capitalize on multithreaded architectures going forward. For those who are unfamiliar with multithreaded architectures, the performance gains afforded by the automated aspects of Sun Studio 12 may prove surprising, and serve notice that multithreaded architectures may have even more underutilized resources than their single-threaded brethren that have been the focus of so much attention.

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