Sun boosts thin client product line

Sun hopes Project Soft Ray will turn fat clients thin

Sun Microsystems wrapped up its SunNetworks 2003 conference this week, leaving one of the final keynotes to Sun Fellow and director of its research lab, Jim Mitchell.
Mitchell highlighted two lab projects, one that is going into production and the second that is still considered a prototype. Project Soft Ray, now going into production, is intended to add value to its Sun Ray thin client line. New form factors and models with higher resolution of the Sun Ray hardware were introduced this week.

The Soft Ray project will give software developers the opportunity to create "purpose built" applications for the Sun Ray thin clients. It will also allow corporate developers to deploy applications that sit only on network servers which are accessed by any client, fat or thin, from desktop to PDA. "It turns a fat client into a thin client," Mitchell said.

Using Java code to create Soft Ray, pieces of the code will sit on the server as well as on the client. If the remote client has bandwidth performance equivalent to DSL speeds, a user will be able to access these network applications using most of the current operating systems including Solaris, Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.

By connecting directly back to the enterprise network without going over the internet, the danger of viruses are greatly reduced, according to Mitchell. "You could have a virus on your desktop, but if you run it as a Soft Ray application it can't get in there," Mitchell said.

The second research project is targeted at the use of PDAs in the enterprise. If the product is developed, users will be able to access most enterprise applications via a handheld. Mitchell laid out the components to make this happen, which include what he called a Universal Client Mark Up Language (UCML).

"By describing an application in a higher [than Java] language, UCML developers can abstract the application up to accommodate difference screens and device capabilities," Mitchell said.

The server using a UCML library would run an interpreter to execute the application and send it down to the desktop. The desktop in turn has a library that understands what it needs to do.

Next, the PDA implements a client-side library that describes itself to the desktop. The application itself does not need to know what device it is talking to.

Extending the Java paradigm, Mitchell said developers to a large extent would have to write an application only once and yet it will run on any device, including PDAs.

Ephraim Schwartz writes for IDG News Service

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