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By Dave Paiz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 14, 1998

UA dept. head creates computer operating 'Scout'

A UA-designed computer operating system called Scout has the potential to change the face of digital video applications worldwide.

"It's not a general-purpose operating system," said Larry Peterson, Scout's creator and University of Arizona computer science department head. "You can configure it for very special-purpose needs."

Unlike general-purpose operating systems like Windows or UNIX that are designed to perform tasks equally well, Scout uses a communication-based gateway called "the path" to perform computer operations.

"Three years ago or so we recognized a trend in computer systems toward network appliances," Peterson said.

Network appliances move information from an input device to an output device. They include digital cameras and displays, television set top boxes like those used by cable TV companies, Web browsers, hand-held and portable devices, and special-purpose computer servers.

Scout was designed to address three main characteristics of network appliances: to move data from an input to an output, to perform a single specialized function, and to function consistently and predictably when under a heavy workload.

General-purpose operating systems are ill-suited for such requirements because they are based on computation rather than communication. They can't quickly adapt to changing needs and they can't allocate resources to ensure predictable performance under load.

Consistently smooth real-time video has long been the goal of computer scientists. The quality of digital video used to depend on variables like Internet bandwidth, computer memory and hard drive space. Those operational limitations make real-time video nearly impossible to attain on standard operating systems. Scout's more specialized range of applications promises to overcome many, if not all, previous limitations.

"In our world we talk about the 'killer app(lication),'" Peterson said.

Scout's "killer app," he said, is its capability for quality real-time video and its appeal to the general public.

Although Scout will eventually be commercialized, Peterson said it still has room to grow.

"We continue to do research on it," Peterson said. "We'll release further revisions of the code as we improve it over time."

Peterson's team just released Scout within the computer science industry for testing to determine its compatibility with existing products. Roughly 100 companies including Sony, Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems are testing the new operating system.

"Right now people are at the stage of trying to get it (Scout) to work with their hardware," Peterson said. "There's still tons of room (for improvement). It's still very early.

"Ultimately, it (Scout's impact) will be on the consumer electronics end," he added. "It'll be less likely to have an impact on HP (Hewlett Packard) or Sun (Microsystems)."

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