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12/17/2003
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Sun Invites IBM And Cray To Work On New Computer Language

The language is part of a government-sponsored program under which the three companies are competing to design a petascale-class computer by 2010.

Sun Microsystems is inviting competitors IBM and Cray to collaborate on defining a new computer language it says could bolster performance and productivity for scientific and technical computing. The effort is part of a government-sponsored program under which the three companies are competing to design a petascale-class computer by 2010.

Sun's goal is to apply its expertise in Java to defining an architecture-independent, low-level software standard--like Java bytecodes--that a language could present to any computer's run-time environment. Sun wants the so-called Portable Intermediate Language and Run-Time Environment to become an open industry standard.

The low-level software would have some support for existing computer languages. But users would gain maximum benefit when they generated the low-level code based on the new technical computing language Sun has asked IBM and Cray to help define.

Whether IBM and Cray will agree to collaborate on the effort is unclear. Both companies have their own software plans that include developing new languages and operating systems as part of their competing work on the High Productivity Computing Systems project under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). "We think languages are one area where the three of us should cooperate, not compete," said Jim Mitchell, who took on leadership of Sun's HPCS effort in August.

Last week, Sun proposed to IBM's HPCS researchers that they pool their separate efforts on such a software language, an idea Sun said Darpa officials back. Sun also plans to invite Cray into the effort. Representatives from IBM and Cray were not available for comment.

The language could be used not just for the petascale systems in the project, but for a broader class of scientific and technical computers. "Java has made it easy to program using a small number of threads," Mitchell said. "But in this [technical computing] world, you have to handle thousands or hundreds of thousands of threads. We need the right language constructs to do that."

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