X-Windows, InterViews, and molecular biology software

Wayne Rindone wrindone at bbn.com
Thu Feb 14 16:36:19 EST 1991

In article <1991Feb13.005957.3523 at bronze.ucs.indiana.edu> gilbertd at cricket.bio.indiana.edu (Don Gilbert) writes:
>I'd like to hear your comments on whether X-Windows software for 
>molecular biology will grow in importance over the coming decade 
>over personal computer software.  Also, are you currently using X-
>Window software?  Do you expect to in the next year or so?

     I guess you can count me among those convinced of the growing
importance of X-window software in these sorts of applications.

     I am a member of the group at BBN that works on the NIH Prophet System,
which includes sequence analysis tools in addition to tools for a wide range of
other life science computing applications - statistics, graphing, curve
fitting, mathematical modeling, molecular structure analysis and display, among

    Our primary graphic support is for X-window environments. We also support
Sunview displays and have not yet completely phased out Tektronix 4107 graphic

    The X-window displays work on all the platforms that Prophet runs on
- Sun-3, Sun-4, SPARCstation, VAX Ultrix, and RISC DECstation (and a Mac
II A/UX version that is nearly ready) and really pays off in networked
multimachine environments like the one we have here. From our office
workstations - Sun 3/50's running X11R4 or Macs with Mac-X - we can
connect to a faster Sun-4 or DECstation (or a larger Mac II running A/UX)
and get everything from molecular displays to Prophet's new graphical
dialogs up on the workstations on our desks.

    When it comes to Prophet's graphical dialogs, we do have to utilize
an X toolkit appropriate to the machine Prophet is running on. So far
this has been the DECwindows toolkit for the VAX and DECstation, Xview
(OpenWindows) for the Sun's, and we are working with a Motif toolkit
provided for the Mac II by a company called Integrated Computer
Solutions. The graphical dialogs also work using the Sunview toolkit, but
not from a remote machine, and the old Tektronix is out of the picture
when it comes to the graphical dialogs.

    The interconnectivity among the different types of Unix machines we
maintain Prophet on has been critical to keeping the same version of
Prophet running on all the platforms. Through the magic of nfs, every
week night a new Prophet version is automatically built and a large suite
of automatic regression tests are run on each different machine.

    Much of our enthusiasm for Unix and for X windows is of course based
on how much easier it makes our job as software developers, but we also
hear from assorted NIH funded operations that are considering or have
obtained Unix workstations. Only in a few cases do they already have
auxiliary X terminals in place, but in many more cases they are in the
midst of getting funding to purchase X terminals, and in nearly all cases
have at least factored them in to their long term plans. Nearly all,
however, certainly have PC's as part of their picture for the foreseeable
future as well. As PC's get more powerful, and Unix workstations get
cheaper, it is likely to become more and more difficult to tell the
difference. Should be fascinating to observe this continuing development
over the coming years.

					Wayne Rindone

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