Building Blocks For X Emerge

2,500 Attendees At Xhibition '89 See Tools Targeted For The Creation of X Solutions

Sean Fulton
UNIX Today!

July 10, 1989

San Jose-Xhibition '89 wasn't a typical users' show, where vendors push applications and show off the latest gadgets to corporate vice presidents looking for answers to huge, incomprehensible problems.

Instead, it was a show about the future, geared more for the people who will solve those problems-programmers in large corporations and independent software vendors-than for those who will actually use the solutions.

Because the mass of the entire computer industry stands behind the X-Window System, the X method for managing the relationships among users, networked desktop computers and back-room servers are likely to dominate that future. At Xhibition '89, vendors unveiled some building blocks for future X-based applications and some development tools with which to build.

"User interfaces are a critical technological monster that must be tamed before we can take up the next Herculean task," said Tom Mace, vice president of marketing for Unix International, during his keynote address. "Many of you are the pioneers, solving the difficult technical problems, building bridges across the chasm."

Attendance stood at about 2,500-double last year's figure for the show at MIT-and 40 vendors exhibited. The event's organizer, Integrated Computer Solutions, expects even greater growth next year, when real applications should begin to emerge and attract users to X.

"The quicker you can get your developers bootstrapped, the quicker you can get applications," said Adam Taylor of Integrated Computer Solutions. "That's where the money is."

Hardware to support X is already in place, Taylor said. All that remains is for developers to find new and unique ways to bring Unix and X-Window onto the desktop in applications that can be put to large-scale use in both the scientific and commercial marketplace.

Sony Microsystems' addition of the Viper videographic controller card to its News workstations was representative of this trend (see story, page 20). While the company said the addition would give developers endless ways to expand their X-Window applications on News by running video through a window, there were no applications to use for the demo at Sony's booth.

Instead, Sony showed the movie Top Gun through a window on the screen.

But there were signs that the technology is emerging. Developer after developer paraded software development tools, some of them brand-new products. Others simply noted that they had designed their existing technology to run under OSF/Motif.

Unify, for example, set up demonstrations of its existing Accell SQL applications development package and fourth-generation language, and promised that the product will also run under Motif by the end of the year. No Motif version of the product was shown, however.

IXI Ltd. also promised a Motif version of its icon-based interface, and it revealed that the interface has been chosen for inclusion in Santa Cruz Operation's Open Desktop (see story, page 20).

One new hardware vendor entered the X display station arena: Tektronix brought out the XN11 color machine, with a 1,024 x 768 pixel, 15-inch screen; dual microprocessors; up to 8 Mbytes of RAM; standard Ethernet (with TCP/IP support); and RS232C ports, carrying a $7,495 price tag ($6,995 if you buy before November).

Tektronix also offered a monochrome X station, with a 1,024 x 1,024, 16-inch screen; up to 4.5 Mbytes of RAM; and TCP/IP, DECnet or SLIP support via the standard serial port for $2,795. In addition, Tektronix offered a $1,000 upgrade kit to turn Tek 4211 netstations into XN11s.

Network Computing Devices, which unveiled its $2,550 monochrome NCD16 X display station (with 1,024 x 1,024, 16-inch square screen) earlier this year, came out with DECnet support. With support of DEC's networking protocols for DECwindows, users can access data on VAX hosts in either VMS or Ultrix environments, said executive vice president Judy Estrin.

The new protocols, called NCDnet, are being offered as an option to the machine's standard TCP/IP protocols.

Among the applications development tools unveiled, Looking Glass reflected well on its vendor, Visix Software. Visix gave demos of Looking Glass in a suite at the Fairmont Hotel, showing the system's speed and adaptability while Visix president Jay Wettlaufer gleefully whipped through a series of development problems (see story, page 14).

Wettlaufer said the product is being designed to run under Motif, but the company is giving consideration to the Open Look user interface as well.

Paragon Imaging unveiled a pre-release version of its Visualization Workbench, a product it hopes will attract applications in fields ranging from geology and mapping to industrial inspection and automation.

One of the handiest features of the workbench is its ability to develop user interfaces. It makes use of object manipulation and algorithm generation through a CASE system, which develops a function shell through a series of prompts and user responses.

In effect, the user is reponsible for completing only the computational kernel of the function, company officials said.

The software also includes tutorials on how to use each component of the system and dual journal recording and journal playback features that record sequences used to build glyphs, or executable macro commands.

Visualization Workbench was demonstrated on a DECstation 3100, but Paragon officials said the product could be ported to any system using Unix and X-Window. They said it already runs on DEC's MicroVAX and all Sun workstations. The product is still in beta test and is expected to begin shipment next month.

For more information about the system, Lowell, Mass.-based Paragon can be reached at 508-441-2112.

Matrox Electronic Systems, Dorval, Quebec, unveiled an X server to allow users of two of its graphics boards to work in an X-Window environment.

The company developed the server software for Sun Microsystems' 386i and Sun-3 workstations (for which it supplies AT-bus and VME-bus boards, respectively) and will distribute object code for those machines, according to product manager Phil Colet. Matrox will also offer the source code so software vendors and users can port it to AT or VME systems, he said.

Both packages allow graphics boards in the hardware to provide instant screen restores, rapid drawing, fast window manipulation and increased system response, the company said.

Matrox's two graphics controller boards are the PG-1281 for AT bus machines and the VG-1281 for VME-based systems. Both boards include 1-to-1.5 Mbytes of display-list memory for fonts, line patterns and graphics contexts, allowing the on-board TMS34010 graphics processor and Matrox custom gate arrays to draw up to 125,000 vectors per second without storage in host memory, company officials said.

The server software for PG-1281 is designed for users of System V Release 3.2 running on an 80386-based PC.

Matrox also introduced the PG2-1281 driver to support IBM's version of X-Window for AIX-PS/2 systems. Matrox can be reached at 514-685-2630.

Advanced Graphics Engineering, San Diego, announced software to allow X-Window development on peripherals using Texas Instruments' TI34010 graphics processor.

Dubbed XoftWare T10, the product is an X11.3 window environment for the TI graphics processor.

Mike Dolan, president of AGE, said the package eats only 512k bytes of working memory, and that even the most complex server implementation would not take up more than 1 Mbyte of RAM. AGE can be reached at 619-565-7373.

GfxBase, Milpitas, Calif. (408-262-1469), came up with a color X-Window system for Commodore's Amiga series that coexists with the native windowing system of the machine's Amigados operating system. Color Amiga X11 can actually run within a pull-down screen on the Amiga, the company said.

The X11.3 implementation supports TCP/IP and DECnet protocols over Ethernet or a serial line, as well as the Amiga standard local message for local connections.

The system uses 5 Mbytes of hard disk or NFS partition space, plus 1 Mbyte of RAM for the server software that controls a 640 x 400 resolution display.

Company officials said the product brings X-Window to one of the lowest-priced computers in the world. It has been tested with X clients running on DEC's VAX, Sun workstations, and Apollo and Hewlett-Packard equipment, as well as several others, the company said.


Copyright 1989 CMP Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.