Tech Industry

Sun responds to Java accusations

Sun shrugs off accusations of unfairly reporting test scores for the beta version of one of its Java compilers.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) shrugged off accusations today of unfairly reporting test scores for the beta version of one of its Java compilers.

Pendragon Software yesterday said that Sun, using Pendragon's CaffeineMark benchmarking tool, inaccurately inflated the test results of the Solaris 2.6 just-in-time Java compiler by optimizing the compiler specifically for that test. Solaris is Sun's version of the Unix operating system.

Sun responded by calling such optimization standard practice.

"The idea is that you want people to optimize for the benchmark," said Brian Croll, director of marketing for Sun's Solaris products. "We'll do everything in our power to do really well on all the benchmarks we get our hands on."

A benchmark is a battery of tests that gauges the speed and performance of software running in various configurations. Several developers have created Java benchmarks; CaffeineMark, which Croll called "the best benchmark we've got," is available free off the Web.

But how much optimization is fair play? Pendragon president Ivan Phillips contended Sun inflated the test results of the Solaris 2.6 just-in-time compiler by lifting code from CaffeineMark and inserting it into the compiler.

"The logic test is contained in the 'logicatom.class' file, and almost 50 percent of that file appeared in the compiler," he said. "The probability that this code made its way there accidentally is infinitesimal."

Reusing such a large chunk of specific code risks diverting too much of the compiler's resources, resulting in lower performance once the compiler is deployed in the real world, Phillips added.

Croll denied that Sun used CaffeineMark code but said the company "optimized around it." It will be difficult to determine who is correct, given that the beta compiler in question is no longer available. Croll stressed that the compiler is designed to perform well on a benchmark because that's what determines good real-world performance.

"If certain things happen frequently in a benchmark, you want to make sure you handle them well," he said. "If it turns out the benchmark doesn't truly represent true application performance, you need to evolve the benchmark."

The charges come at a time when Sun and Microsoft are entangled in tit-for-tat lawsuits over Microsoft's use of Java in its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser.

In an October 20 press release, Sun bragged that Solaris had the "world's fastest Java performance" and ran Java applications 50 percent faster than rival operating system Windows NT. After taking issue with Sun's test results, Pendragon said it asked Sun to retract its claims and remove the compiler from its Web site.

Sun removed the entire JDK 1.1.4 for Solaris on October 29 because the beta evaluation period ended, according to Croll. The company didn't take down the press release or rescind its claims, however, and Phillips responded yesterday by publishing his accusations.

Pendragon doesn't usually double-check testers' CaffeineMark scores. But when it saw Sun's results--the Solaris compiler hit a score of 1.4 million on the "logic" test, while the previous high for that test was 22,000--the software firm decided to investigate, fearing that CaffeineMark contained a bug.

If Sun indeed took deliberate steps to skew its results, Phillips was surprised at the lack of subtlety.

"If a company really wanted to conceal what they were doing, they could do a better job," he said.