118 years of trust
Chandigarh, Thursday, October 29, 1998

The battle for the desktop
By H.S. Jatana
THERE is a war brewing — on one side are the companies who dominate desktop technology like Intel, Microsoft Corp and opposing them are companies such as Oracle systems and Sun Microsystems, who view the network — not the personal computer as the cornerstone of modern computing.

Life on earth came from stars
NEW DELHI (PTI): By observing a cloud of gas about 1500 light years (one light year is the distance travelled by light in an year) away, an international team of astronomers has found evidence that life on earth originated among the distant stars and planets.


The battle for the desktop
By H.S. Jatana

THERE is a war brewing — on one side are the companies who dominate desktop technology like Intel, Microsoft Corp and opposing them are companies such as Oracle systems and Sun Microsystems, who view the network — not the personal computer as the cornerstone of modern computing. They are proposing that a new, simpler type of desktop computing device, called the network computer or NC, take cover the desktop from the more complex PC, thereby becoming the entry point to the network for the vast majority of the people. A host of these NCs have already been launched into the marketplace.

Intel Inc. who dominates the PC market, now concede that the existing PC could be modified to make it more manageable — a configuration they call the Net PC and insist that it still makes sense to retain the Windows/Pentium core of today’s PC.

Essentially, there is a war of ideas, about how networks should be used to distribute and control software and how computers should be built for use in that environment. In Oracle’s view, the NC is not for business use alone, it is a device that will make computer and network technology pervasive in everyone’s everyday life.

The conflict’s outcome will decide the future direction of the computer industry and the fortunes of those engaged in the struggle. If anything is certain, it is that the computing desktop will never be the same, and that future systems will be easier and cost less to manage.

Existing scenario

During the 1990s, Microsoft tightened its hold on computing with its DOS/Windows OS, which run mostly on Intel hardware. In 1995, by dint of its savvy marketing, it in effect controlled PC software technology development, and seemed likely to dictate desktop computing technology for the foreseeable future. In 1993, by coupling the latest Windows NT operating system with the Intel Pentium, Microsoft saw it could also launch an attack on the market for higher-performance network systems. The runaway success of Web software start-ups like Netscape awakened Microsoft to the importance of the Web and the Internet. The number 1 player of the Internet network server market is Sun. Sun’s systems — based on its own Sparc microprocessor architecture are at the centre of many companies internet operations. The market share of Systems running Windows NT for networks on Intel processors has been growing rapidly and it poses a threat to Sun.

Oracle is the leading developer of DBMS software, which is widely used in network environments. As companies have begun to tie their DBMSs into their intra-and Internet plans, Oracle has made it known that it wants to be a central player in the Net game, and it currently provides many tools for developing Web/database applications. Although Microsoft’s database products are no equal to Oracle’s today, Microsoft has begun setting standards for database application programming (API) that could give it considerable clout in Oracle’s market.

The nature of their business plans makes Intel and Microsoft the natural enemies of Sun and Oracle. With the rise of Netscape and other Internet software companies, Microsoft, which had admittedly underestimated the Net’s impact, refocused itself on developing Web-centric software, revamping its Windows desktop and server operating systems to be more Net compatible. Indeed, the next version of its Windows OS is built around Web technologies, including Microsoft’s version of Sun’s Java technology.

Java phenomenon

The Java software technology created by Sun was developed by people who were totally enmeshed in the Net. Sun was ahead of Microsoft in grasping how important the Internet could be to the future of corporate computing. After all, Sun had been delivering its workstations to the technical community for years, and in doing so was working with many engineers around the world who were developing fundamental Internet and Web technologies. It was thus natural that, as technologies started adding more modes to the Net for research and commerce, they relied on the computers they knew, and Sun’s business grew.

Sun set up a separate team to develop advanced network software and hardware technology to further promote the use of its systems for Internet applications. The fruit of that group’s work was an OOP language called Java, designed to run on any system in a network. The premise underlying Java’s development was that all computers can be described generically, that is, in terms of general functions like display and input capability, when a computer is described in this way, it is called a Virtual machine.

Java’s developers realised that if all computers can be described in terms of general functions, then programme that are written using only general functions could run on all computers. Turning the general functions into the specific tasks would be a simple job for the computer on which the programmes ran. Unlike current Windows applications, Java programmes do not care what the computer’s underlying OS software or processor is. By freeing people from a particular type of system software, Java was Sun’s declaration of war on proprietary system software in general and Microsoft’s Windows in particular.

Defining NC

In 1996 Oracle Corp., Apple, IBM, Netscape and Sun Microsystems formulated the guidelines for building an NC. The document is called the Network Computer Reference Profile. It describes a set of four user interface resources that are required: for output, a screen with a minimum resolution of 640x480 pixels — a video graphics array VGA and audio output; for input, a pointing device such as a mouse, and text input capability. The display requirements would permit TV monitors to be utilised. The profile also states that persistent storage, such as a disk drive, while not forbidden, is not required either.

Though deliberately vague about resource requirements such as RAM and ROM or processor performance, the profile is specific about the communication protocols that must be supported to make the NC a network-centric device. First of all, an NC must handle the transmission control/Internet protocols (TCP/IP). It must also support ftp, telenet, the simple network management protocol (SNMP).

Again, in keeping with the network-centric view, the NC must be designed to boot up on the network. Just as a PC has its basic I/O system(BIOS), which tells it to load its main operating system from a hard disk drive, the NC has a boot programme that tells it how to connect to the network and identify itself.

In addition, the NC must support the fundamental Web standards: the hypertext transport protocol (HTTP) for transferring Web pages between a server and a browser, and the hypertext mark-up protocol (HTML), which describes how a browser should display a Web page’s contents. There are also four multimedia file formats — JPEG and GIF for images and WAV and AU for sound — widely used on the Web and required for the NC, and the Java virtual machine with its runtime environment and class libraries.

So that NC can handle e-mail, three protocols are required: the simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP), the Internet message access protocol version 4(IMAP4), and the post office protocol version 3 (POP3). Lastly, there are emerging APIs for security as well as, optionally, Smart Card (ISO 786) standards and the Europay/Master Card/Visa specification for secure financial transactions.

Today, there is a whole host of NCs to choose from; the first company out of the gate was HDS Network Systems, which introduced its @workstation based on a RISC processor (a 66 MHz Intel i960). Network Computing Devices markets a similar system under the name Explora using its own NCDware as the O.S. The Explora’s WinCentre software gives users access to Windows applications running on a server. Boundless Technologies, Texas is offering the XI and XLC series of NCs, which are based on Intel’s RISC processor.

While all these NCs are network ready, what is obvious about them is that their core processors are different from unit to unit and, while the operating system software may be based on common technologies, the implementation for each processor is also different. Thus NC reference designs based on different processors are now springing up. Sun also has introduced its own version of the NC, the Javastation, Its CPU is a microSparc II 100-MHz RISC processor equipped with both Citrix software to run Windows applications and Sun’s Java OS to run Java applications.

The NetPC

Microsoft and Intel Inc announced an initiative to develop their own reference design, for a new type of desktop computer to be called the NetPC. Like the NC, the NetPC would be similar than a PC; it would not require the flexibility and expandability of the traditional PC. This type of system will be built around only one processor architecture, Pentium, and only one operating system, Windows. It would also be based on two initiatives to make PCs more manageable: one that Intel had begun earlier, called Wired for Management, and a new one from Microsoft, called Zero Administration for Windows.

In addition to meeting the above requirements, and unlike an NC, a NetPC must have an internal hard disk for catching. Further, systems would have to comply with Plug and Play requirements, and have unique Ids for each installed device and add-on.

The key distinction between the two is That NC has no hard disk and hence can not locally store the full applications that Microsoft refers to when discussing application flexibility for the hard-disked NetPC. But the types of applications that NC supporters see in its future are all thin clients based on Java, and therefore do not require the NetPC’s hard disk. the NetPC is tied to one platform architecture, Intel’s and Microsoft’s, while the NC opens the door to other processors and operating systems.

Whatever be its future, one thing is certain that in NCs we have a revolutionary concept knocking at our doors, which promises to provide unique advantages and unmatched functionalities. There is also no doubt that NCs offer major benefits over conventional desktops in terms of cost, maintenance and portability. For now, it looks as though either type system could trim business outlays. What remains, then, is to see which side can deliver all the resources needed to deploy their systems quickly, efficiently, and at the lowest lifetime cost.

The author (hsj@sclcd. ernet.in) is Manager (VLSI) with Semiconductor Complex, ChandigarhTop


Life on earth came from stars

NEW DELHI (PTI): By observing a cloud of gas about 1500 light years (one light year is the distance travelled by light in an year) away, an international team of astronomers has found evidence that life on earth originated among the distant stars and planets.

The findings, published in the American journal Science suggest that organic molecules-the building block of life have travelled to earth in comets and meteorites.

It also solves a 150-years old puzzle about the structure of molecules, discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1848.

He showed that though molecules in living organisms could exist in two different three-dimensional forms but in reality they were found in only one form - either right-handed or left-handed.

It has been observed, that amino acid molecules are nearly always left-handed while sugars are right-handed.

However, in 1930s scientists discovered that circularly polarised light, a special type of light rarely found in natural conditions, could destroy handedness of a particular molecule.

By observing a region in great nebula in the constellation of Orion, the international team has found the presence of circularly polarised light there suggesting, handedness of the molecules is destroyed by the polarised light after their birth.

According to scientists, circularly polarised light in regions of universe can create a preferred handedness on organic molecules by destroying the other form.

The particular area, observed by astronomers, is known as star birthplace as molecules are born in that gaseous fireball.

Last year scientists at Arizona State University, USA, found large amounts of left-handed amino acids in the Murchison meteorite which fell to earth in 1969 in Australia.

The discovery indicated that one handed organic molecules existed before life began on earth and might have been present in the material from which the solar system was formed.

They used Anglo-Australian telescope at Siding Spring mountain in Australia to discover these special light rays which they hope would make the picture clearer.Top

  SCIENCE NOTEBOOK by Rajesh Kochhar

Homeless stars

One of the most beautiful sights on dark summer nights is the band of faint white light that stretches from horizon to horizon. It is called Akash Ganga or Milky Way. As Galileo first noticed in 1610, the Milky Way is composed of a multitude of individual stars. These stars along with the sun belong to a vast system of stars forming a disk known as a galaxy.Our galaxy is termed the Milky Way Galaxy or simply THE Galaxy.

The sun lies in one corner of the disk. The Milky Way patch is the light from nearby stars when we look towards the centre of the disk.All the stars that we see at night belong to our Galaxy. The Galaxy is their place of birth and the seat of their residence.With binoculars we can see other galaxies as fuzzy objects. To see star in other galaxies we require big telescopes.

Astronomers are convinced that stars cannot form outside a galaxy but have long suspected that they may wander out of a galaxy. This suspicion has now been confirmed. Astronomers have found stars inhabiting the space between galaxies. These stars have been located using the 2 m telescope in space, the Hubble telescope. Their address : Virgo cluster.The cluster of galaxies named after the constellation Virgo is a rich cluster of about 2500 galaxies.

The newly discovered stars came to light when the astronomers aimed the Hubble telescope at a small, seemingly blank portion of the sky near the centre of the Virgo cluster. In the photograph taken by the telescope, one could see about 600 stars.

These stars are large and bright, like the giant star Betelgeuse in the solar neighbourhood. The Virgo intergalactic stars are spread out at an average distance of 1000 light years from each other. This is in contrast to the situation in the Galaxy, where the nearest star to the Sun is barely four light years away.

As already noted, these stars must have formed in the cosy environment of a galaxy. How come they are now in the cosmic wilderness? The reason : gravitational confusion.

The galaxies in the Virgo cluster are bound together by their mutual gravitational pull. Just as the individual stars in a galaxy are always in orbit, the galaxies in a cluster also keep moving. When the home galaxy of these stars moved into the centre of the Virgo cluster, the stars could no longer distinguish between the gravitational field of their own galaxy and the field of the cluster as a whole. When the home galaxy moved on, the stars parted company and drifted away in a different direction. Also,it is surmised that when two moving galaxies came close together or even merged, some stars would have been thrown out. It is these state-less stars which now inhabit the intergalactic space.

It is estimated that there are some one trillion intergalactic stars in the Virgo cluster, accounting for about 10 per cent of the total mass of the cluster. Does this have a cosmological significance? Can these stars constitute the dark mass the cosmologists are looking for? The answer to both these questions is no. The mass in these stars is too small to “close” the universe. These inter-galactic stars, interesting as they are, are no more than a curiosity.

* * *

The last word

A man said to the universe

“Sir, I exist”.

“However”, replied the universe

“The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation”.
— Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

  1. A celestial spectacular firework show is likely to occur on November 17 when the earth runs head-on into a group of meteors and the skies will light up with a shower of shooting stars. What is the name of this group of meteors which will hit the earth’s atmosphere at an enormous speed of 41 miles per second and burn up in the early morning sky producing a blaze?
  2. Name the wonder drug, made recently from freshwater algae, that contains all the nutrients, proteins and vitamins needed for a child’s development. Which Indian organisation had developed it?
  3. The speed of an aircraft is generally compared to that of sound and expressed in terms of a number. What is this number called and after whom has it been named?
  4. Insectors can walk on the surface of water and also lay eggs on the surface which do not sink. what is this property of water called due to which its free surface can support small objects denser than water?
  5. Two doughnet-shaped regions (belts) of electrically charged particles (like protons and electrons) surround the earth above the equator. What are these belts called? Who discovered these? During which years?
  6. What is the chemical name of the harmful gas that is emitted out of marsh and is sometimes burnt and used by poor people for cooking? Which chemical elements are contained in this gas?
  7. If a child gulps down a coin into his stomach, which instrument will a doctor use to locate the coin without performing surgery?
  8. The Animal Husbandry Department of Haryana has recently devised a process by which milch cattle breed can be improved for high yield of milk and thus help farmers generate high income. What is this process called?
  9. A formulated fat, totally cholesterol free and containing unsaturated fatty acids, is used in countries like the USA for all types of cooking and frying. Under which trade name is it being marketed?
  10. What is the process of induction of artificial rainfall called in which silver compounds or dry ice are sprayed in the sky at high altitudes?


1. Leonids 2. Spirulina; National Development Research Corporation 3. Mach number, named after the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach 4. Surface tension 5. Van Allen radiation belts; American physicist James Alfred Van Allen; 1957-58 6. Methane; carbon and hydrogen 7. Endoscope 8. Embryo transfer technology 9. Appetize 10. Cloud seeding.Top


Telephone caller identifier

In response to the government’s decision to release caller-ID information through the electronic exchanges of the Department of Telecommunication, Namtech Systems, a hi-tech electronics company based in Bangalore, has developed, for the first time in India. Two innovative products for subscribers.

The first is IdentiCall Model PX-2000 telephone line caller identifier module, which is easily installed between the consumer’s existing telephone and the DOT/MTNL connection. The unit memorises 30 telephone numbers, 10 received calls, 10 missed calls and 10 outgoing calls. In each telephone number memorised, up to 9 repeat calls can be logged amounting to a total memory of 270. The telephone number is displayed on an advanced technology LCD display.

Another innovative feature is that the IdentiCall PX-2000 can also double as a home metering device in the same way as an STD-PCO functions. On outgoing calls, it will indicate the number of units used when the DOT 16KHz metering pulse is provided.

In its second product launch, Namtech has taken this technology to the leading edge by introducing India’s first multifunction feature phone with built-in caller ID type NFP-313-TCID,

Fingertip sensors to identify users

GERMAN RESEARCHERS have developed a new sensor for mobile phones, computers and ignition locks that can identify users from a touch of their fingertips.

The prototype of the sensor, developed by Siemens, is the world’s first microchip that can simply be directly touched, reports Siemens Telecom News.

Over 65,000 sensor elements measure the exact distance of the skin from the chip’s surface and pass on the image to the computer in the form of a digital data record.

The computer reduces the fingerprint to a few characteristic lines and whorls and compares it with the original stored data. Twelve such correspondences suffice for reliable identification.

To be launched in two years time the sensor can be manufactured at low cost using conventional memory chip technology.

Quality feed from sprouted seeds

By selecting suitable levels of temperature and humidity, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Intrerfacial Engineering and Biotechnology have developed a regulated system, to control the biochemical processes taking place in seeds during germination, which can give high quality sprouted seeds convertible to better animal feed.

From the nutritional point of view, feeding animals with freshly sprouted grains is more advantageous than feeding raw seeds as sprouts have a superior balance of nutrients compared to ungerminated seeds.

The new process would help to produce sufficient quantities of fast-growing sprouts under controlled conditions.Top

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