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Sun Mad Hatter + Sun Ray

28 agosto 2003

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Yesterday I went to Sun Microsystem’s Milan offices, to see a presentation on Sun Ray, their thin client architecture, and a running example of their new Linux desktop, Mad Hatter.

I have to say I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing, the presentation had been arranged almost a couple of months ago and I had totally forgotten about it. From what I had heard about Mad Hatter in previous meetings, I was not convinced it could add any benefits compared to other corporate-oriented Linux distributions, apart maybe for a single source of support.

Moreover, I had already been bitten a few years ago by Sun’s thin clients, when I convinced the company I worked for to buy a few JavaStations for testing, and after fiddling with them a while we found them completely useless (or at least not up to the hype that was surrounding them).

Plus, after the summer vacations schedules are still a bit fuzzy around here, so I was lucky one of the sales engineers called be the day before yesterday to remind me of the meeting, or else I would have totally forgotten it.

Despite all this, the presentation turned out to be very interesting. I came out of Sun’s building totally impressed by what I had seen.

Sun Ray is a wonderful architecture. The clients are beautiful and sufficiently fast, sessions get transparently restored across geographical networks, and with Solaris supporting Gnome you feel right at home in Sun Ray’s desktop. Moreover, rumours say the server software that controls the thin clients will soon be able to run on Linux, giving you the option of using 386 servers instead of expensive (but reliable and beautiful) SPARC servers.

After the presentation, the Sun people let me play around a bit on a couple of Sun Rays, one attached to a guest network, one attached to Sun’s worldwide network. The real thing was even better than the presentation (which was very interesting already), and that’s not something you see often.

Now I’m trying to convince my boss to spend some money on a start-up bundle (15 Sun Rays and a small Sun Server for 8k euros), so that we can properly test them. Unfortunately, we’re becoming more and more Microsoft-oriented at least on the desktop side of things, and technology decision are usually based on politics rather than technical merits, as is always the case in huge organizations.

As for Mad Hatter, I had a quick look and was favorably impressed. It is based on SuSe, not on RedHat as they told us a couple of months ago. It sports all the usual apps, Star Office (ofc), and a beautifully themed Gnome Desktop. What surprised me is that the Gnome packages are pretty bleeding edge. I was prepared to find the usual corporate-oriented distro, ie slow to accept changes and favouring old and stable packages vs new and potentially unstable ones. Instead, the feel of Mad Hatter is of something built by affectionate developers, with a very careful eye towards the professional user’s needs.

I’m very curious to see how it feels using it on a day-to-day basis. I hope we’re able to join the beta test in a few weeks.

To sum it up, a well spent and interesting morning, in a beautiful (if empty — we crossed lots of rooms without seeing anybody around) space, with very kind and knowledgeable people (they even let me play a bit on a Mac OSX system they had lying around, lol).