Interview with Sun’s Tim Bray and Radia Perlman – Part 1: Web history and future, P2P

first_imgTags:#Interviews#web Tocelebrate the 15thanniversary of the World Wide Web, today I interviewed two distinguished people fromSun Microsystems – Tim Bray (Director ofWeb Technologies) and RadiaPerlman (Distinguished Engineer). Sun of course was one of the key Web companies fromthe 90’s and is still going strong today, under the leadership of Jonathan Schwartz. I discussed with Tim andRadia the past 15 years of the Web and also looked ahead to its future. We also talked about things like P2P and its place on the Web (see below).UPDATE: The full interview is now available as a podcast.Both have been in the computing business a long time and have had very influentialcareers. Tim Bray co-invented XML 1.0 and wasTim Berners-Lee’s appointee on the W3C Technical Architecture Group in 2002-2004 –amongst other accomplishments. Radia Perlman, who has a PhD from MIT in computer science,specializes in network and security protocols. In 1983 (according to a Sun timeline of theWeb) she invented the spanning tree algorithm and is also sometimes referred to as the “Mother of theInternet”. So these are two incredibly smart Web technologists – and to be honest I was abit nervous about speaking to them! Note that this interview will be published across 2 posts.Aha moment on the Web?I started out by asking when Tim and Radia first got interested in the Web – was therean ‘aha’ moment? Tim saidthat in the early 90’s he was working for a company called Open Text Systems, which wasat that point a vendor of full-text search software. He had noticed the Web around thattime and played around with early browsers. Then in early ’94 he was at a conference andone of the speakers said that search was going to be a big application on the Web. “Itwas so painfully obvious,” Tim said, “that this was a good combination to work on – thatI was hooked. So I’ve basically been earning my living worrying about the Web and workingwith the Web ever since then.”For Radia it was more a gradual process over the years. She mentioned using email andtransferring files across networks in the pre-Web days – “you could do the equivalent ofInstant Messenger back then”. The good and the bad of the Web The Webhas always had two sides for Radia. “At all stages I’ve been excited and enthralled bythe positive opportunities [of the Web]”, she told me, “but I’m terrified by thedownsides.” She mentions robustness as one example – “if the Internet is broken, then theway that you fix it is using the Internet to send network management messages. That isjust so scary.” So part of her early work on the Internet has been to make it so that itdoesn’t get into the same kind of bad state that a PC gets into – “you can’t reboot theInternet”. Radia is concerned about society getting more and more dependent on the Internet– she says it’s exciting, but the security implications are scary. She’s also concernedabout libraries getting replaced by the Internet and correctness of information on theNet (e.g. with scientific information). Sun’s history on the Web – servers and JavaI then asked about Sun’s history on the Web – and put my foot in it when I suggestedthat Java has been Sun Microsystems’ main contribution to the Web. Tim said that “steelboxes with CPUs and memory inside them have been the largest contribution” by Sun. Hesaid that since the mid-90’s Sun has primarily been in the server business. In particulartheir expertise in servers that can handle heavy loads and stay up for a long time,proved to be a good match for the Web. So Tim thinks that Sun’s role as a systems vendor,from the hardware to middleware, has been where they’ve had the most impact.  Radiaagreed and said that “it’s the servers that really were the heart of all the huge,scalable web sites – and at reasonably low cost”. Tim said that Sun was the first vendorto commit to shipping servers with “no proprietary networks – they were TCP/IP and that’sall they were”. So this meant they were interoperable and “Sun servers have been all overthe Web” as a result. Tim said there’s a lesson to be gained from that – which is that “arising tide floats all boats.” He said “the right way to do the good thing for the Weband the good thing for Sun is to play by the rules – be a good citizen.” He pointed out that even today there are companies that try to “get a littleproprietary edge in there and set up a toll booth – but that’s not the way to make realmoney on the Web”. He says playing by the rules and being a good citizen is the bestway.I asked what are some examples of big websites that have used Sun servers. Tim saidthat “eBay has always been a Sun site”.P2P and the WebI then moved the subject over to P2P technologies and mentioned the post I did lastweek aboutSkyrider, a new peer-to-peer platform that aims to commercialize P2P. I wanted toknow if Tim and Radia see P2P as coming more into play on the Web, as large media filesget shuffled around. Will Sun be involved in this kind of thing?Tim starts off by saying that P2P has been “a tough sell […] harder than it shouldbe given the Internet’s architecture.” But even so he doesn’t see P2P as being a centralgrowth factor for the Web: “I think, Richard, that the name of your blog [read/writeweb] is the key thing – thething that has been interesting and new and driving the whole ecosystem over the last 2-3years has been the fact that everybody’s been piling on board. That it’s becoming awriteable medium, not just a readable medium.”Radia is also not a big fan of peer to peer when it comes to the Web, but she notes there are differentinterpretations of what P2P is. “Peer-to-peer as primarily geared to being able to tradecopyrighted information […] is the reason why people want to do it.” She says that froma technical point of view, it’s much better to have central sites where you co-ordinateand certify people. She thinks that doing it in a pure P2P way (i.e. decentralized) “makes security and scalability verydifficult”. Her ideal is having central sites where yourendezvous, so you know what is where. And then the file goes peer to peer from that point. Timsaid though that BitTorrent is “remarkably clever” and Sun used BitTorrent when they opensourced Solaris. He said that BitTorrent is “a better way to distribute very largevolumes of data around the Internet” – and given that BitTorrent “doesn’t allow you toanonymize yourself, it is less prone to piratical abuse”. But he stands by his claim thatit’s not the big data files, but people that are making the difference on the Webright now.But does P2P have a bright future?Perhaps showing my technical naivety, I pursued the question of whether P2P will beused more over time in media and business – a la Skype today. Tim then asked Radia togive me an overview of “why true peer to peer is hard to build in a world of NATs” [ed: not “Nets” as I originally wrote]. Radiasaid that true peer to peer means that everyone can be anonymous. But she says havingcentral sites where people can register is key to making the Web scalable. AlsoRadia is concerned by the security aspects of ‘true’ P2P – e.g. people could senddamaging files around. So that’s why both Radia and Tim are skeptical of my notion thatP2P will drive more and more activity on the Web going forward.That ends Part 1 of my interview with Tim Bray and Radia Perlman of Sun Microsystems.Part 2 will feature discussions around Web-connected devices, Web Office, how Sun fitsinto ‘web 2.0’, and I pick Tim’s brain about ATOM (an alternative RSS format that Timhelps drive) and GData.UPDATE: The full interview is now available as a podcast. A Web Developer’s New Best Friend is the AI Wai… Related Posts richard macmanuscenter_img Why Tech Companies Need Simpler Terms of Servic… Top Reasons to Go With Managed WordPress Hosting 8 Best WordPress Hosting Solutions on the Marketlast_img

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