Is this any time to be launching a new network OS? Lucent technologies thinks so. The company has released the first version of Inferno, a real-time network operating system designed to run on devices from set-top boxes to workstations.
Inferno, announced just over a year ago and in beta since September, was first seen by some observers to be a competitor to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java platform. Lucent officials, however, stress that Inferno is not a competitor to Java - in fact, it supports applications and services developed in Java. It is intended to work over the Internet and a host of networks, including the public telephone, corporate, cable television, and satellite networks, officials say.
"The Internet is growing in size and use but it is not the only network in town," says Dick Muldoon, a Lucent spokesman. "If you ... want to deliver your product to people who are using a variety of terminals and networks, what you are looking for is an information dialtone that is extremely simple across all those networks and devices, and that is where Inferno comes to the fore."
The Inferno operating system includes Styx, a communications protocol; Limbo, a programming language; and Dis, a virtual machine. It can support applications and services written in other languages, including Java, C, and C++ and also includes speech and audio drivers, as well as ODBC links to Informix, Microsoft , Sybase, and Oracle databases.
Inferno can run natively on small devices built with chips such as Digital's StrongARM, Hitachi's SH3, Intel 's X86 architecture, Silicon Graphics' MIPS, Motorola's 68030 and PowerPC, Sun's SPARC, and Advanced Risc Machines Ltd.'s ARM. Through the virtual machine, it can also run on top of other platforms, including Sun's Solaris, Silicon Graphics' IRIX, DEC's Alpha, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, and Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 95.
Lucent has announced one Inferno customer - OmniBox Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut, which plans to use the operating system in set-top boxes for a planned interactive television service that will be launched this year. Inferno's flexibility - using its virtual machine, applications can run on a number of different platforms - was one key factor in their decision.
"The Inferno operating system is a very elegant system that requires very little memory space," said Michael Janicki, a consultant for OmniBox. "It's a very flexible, open-ended architecture that will facilitate ... electronic commerce, and that's the core concept of OmniBox."
Lucent claims that more than 10,000 people have downloaded Inferno from its Web site. The real question will be whether Lucent can, as Sun did with Java, convince developers to write applications for Inferno, one analyst said.
"Java is out there and has a lot of momentum," said Mike Arellano, analyst at Probe Research Inc., in Cedar Knolles, New Jersey. Lucent, however, has some strengths, including its knowledge of the telecom market, and its plans to pitch Inferno for a variety of devices over a number of different types of networks. "[Lucent] intends to have a broader reach with Inferno."