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November 1996: News And Views

Out in the Open

One year after Microsoft's much ballyhooed release of Windows 95, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and Caldera made major--if not glitzy--operating system releases of their own.

The FSF released v0.0 of its Hurd kernel, the last major component of GNU, a decade-old project to develop a free, open operating system. The kernel is based on the Mach microkernel, and was designed to give users maximum flexibility and control over their own environment without interfering with those of other users.

While FSF chose to be innovative, Caldera went with the tried and tested. Caldera made the source code to DR DOS, the operating system acquired from Novell (who, in turn, acquired it from Digital Research), freely available over the Internet. Before the release, the company made enhancements to the OS, including adding TCP/IP support. Caldera, makers of the Caldera Network Desktop (based on the freely available Linux operating system), hopes that the strategy of open development and cooperation will do for DR DOS what it did for Linux.

--Eugene Eric Kim

Java Bucks

If you've been searching for the reason why Java will be a commercial success, look no further than venture capitalist Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers. The company "is pleased to announce" its KPCB Java Fund, which has been capitalized at $100,000,000. Funded by the likes of Netscape, Compaq, Oracle, IBM, Sun, TCI, and Cisco, KPCB believes this is the first venture-capital fund specifically targeted at a programming language.

--Jonathan Erickson

Not for the Mathematically Impaired

From elliptic-curve digital-signature algorithms to the state of hash functions, practical applications of theoretical mathematics--particularly as applied to cryptography--were center stage at RSA Laboratories' Cryptographer's Colloquia. In addition to well-known cryptographers such as MIT's Ron Rivest, who spoke on SDSI ("A Simple Distributed Security Infrastructure") and Netscape's Taher El Gamal addressing "Cryptography and the Internet," speakers included IBM's Hugo Krawczyk ("Message Authentication"), Claus Schnorr ("Identification Protocols"), and Andrew Odlyzko ("Cryptography and Hard Problems in Number Theory"). The two-day conference was keynoted by Rivest and Sun's Whitfield Diffie.

--Eugene Eric Kim

Trademark Scam

Members of the Linux community were outraged upon receiving letters from an outfit called "Global American" which claimed a trademark (1,916,230) on the term "Linux" when used to describe "computer operating system software to facilitate computer use and operation." Yes, Global American does hold a trademark, which was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in August, 1994, and registered on September 5, 1995. On first glance, it would appear that the trademark will not stand up under scrutiny, for no other reason than the term "Linux" was in use well before the August 1994 date.

In the spirit of beating its own drum, the Patent and Trademark Office released a press release lauding itself for earning "high grades after automation assessment." Maybe so, but the PTO deserves a failing grade for the Linux trademark.

--Jonathan Erickson

Not Your Father's Graphics Processor

Microsoft is testing the hardware market once again, this time with the design and licensing of Talisman, a 3-D rendering architecture. Targeted specifically at the entertainment--not CAD--market, Talisman is designed to trade off geometric accuracy for optimized speed and realism. In doing so, it applies temporal compression to the rendering process, thereby reducing traditional bandwidth requirements by a factor of 50. Look for Talisman-based graphics cards in 1998.

--Jonathan Erickson

Rover II: On the Road Again

Rover, a "Remote Audio/Video Explorer Robot" first presented at SIGGRAPH '94, was updated and rechristened as "Rover II" at this summer's SIGGRAPH '96. Rover now supports stereo vision, stereo audio, and independent head tracking. The communications link is a 9600-baud digital data stream. The brain of the system is an 8-MB, PC-compatible motherboard running Linux from a single 1.44-MB floppy drive. The two-way voice link lets a remote operator (wearing a virtual-reality helmet) carry on a conversation with anOyone near Rover II. A mechanical tracker connected to the VR helmet allows cameras on Rover II to mimic the operator's head movements. Rover II uses the amateur ham radio spectrum for all of its digital, video, and audio links. Check out Rover's home page at http://www .vsl.ist.ucf.edu/~rover/.

--Jonathan Erickson

More Storage, Same Size

Don't get rid of your 3.5-inch diskettes just yet. As Iomega's Zip, Syquest's EZ, and others are threatening to make their ancient cousins obsolete, Corporate Systems Center is trying to convince users that the 3.5-inch disk isn't dead. It is currently shipping its X10 floppy disk drive, a floppy drive the company claims can copy 1.44-MB diskettes in about five seconds. The drive comes with a proprietary controller with an onboard BIOS that traps Interrupt 13 on your system, so it should be compatible with most operating systems without rewriting drivers. Borrowing from Apple, the drive also features a motorized eject, presumably for convenient and automatic backups.

Will it take off? There doesn't seem to be much reason why it shouldn't. Practically every system continues to come packaged with a floppy drive, and despite their low storage capacity, many software vendors still deliver their product on diskettes. However, it won't affect the high-capacity removable-storage market, and Corporate Systems Center realizes this. It plans to develop a 200-MB version of its drive that will also read 3.5-inch diskettes.

--Eugene Eric Kim


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