Sun386i computer in Tron: Legacy; could Clu live?

I took a closer look at the screen of the computer Sam Flynn finds in Tron: Legacy that soon sends him to this grid place. It looks to be identifying itself as a system based on an Intel 386 processor running SunOS 4.0.1. Evidently this is one of Sun’s old Sun386i computers. This is consistent with the 1989 time frame; such systems were available in 1988. It also seems that security was configured to be somewhat lacking. Why would someone make a user account called “backdoor”?

Kevin Flynn appears to be a user of vi, one of the two text editors that have inspired an almost religious devotion. The other is emacs. One of the files previously edited is called last_will_and_testament.txt in Kevin’s home directory. Was he already worried about Clu, or about the health effects of going in and out of the computer?

I think the Sun386i computer was not the one running that grid setup where the Flynn’s existed for a time. The environment depicted is very intricate and detailed with plenty of the program-processes all running at once. (Tron fiction combines programs and processes into a single entity it calls a program.) Some of those program-processes have very complex behavior, and that may require a good sized program with plenty of data. I doubt it could all fit into 16MB of RAM, which is the most a Sun386i can take.

Further, the Sun386i was connected to a network, or the filmmakers made a mistake. Inside a partly obstructed terminal window is what appears to be output from the command top running on a modern Linux or similar system. Solaris, the successor to SunOS, has a different command, prstat, that it seems does the same sort of thing as top, but with a different formatting of the data. SunOS may have had prstat as well, but I don’t recall; I last used a SunOS/Solaris system over ten years ago.

The output of top shows a process called Xorg, which is very similar to X.Org, the name of a common X server. An X server runs the basic parts of a graphical console on most Unix-like systems. X client programs send commands to the server to draw things on the screen, and the server sends the clients user input. SunOS 4.0.1 has an X server, but it wasn’t X.Org. X.Org is a modern X server that was first released in 2004. I doubt anyone has bothered to port it to an old Sun system from 1988 that is mostly forgotten now. There are other processes on the list, like hald, that also suggest modern software.

The old Sun’s hardware includes an Ethernet interface, and SunOS supports IPv4. With a working Sun386i today, it should be possible to connect it to almost any Ethernet LAN, configure it manually with an IP address, subnet mask, default route, and DNS, and then be able to communicate with the modern Internet that uses IPv4, which is still almost all of it, if the LAN includes an Internet connection. Then telnet could be used to log into a remote machine, such as a modern Linux machine, and run top.

They seemed to give a lot of attention to the details of the Sun computer, so I’m not sure this was a mistake. If it isn’t, then the uptime of a little more than eight and a half days shown by top makes more sense. But that would mean that someone, or some process with access to the Sun386i, connected to and ran top on the remote machine sometime within eight and a half days before Sam Flynn began his adventure on a grid. Might Clu have access to the Sun system? Even if the Sun system isn’t running the grid environment, it likely is in contact with that system. But if Clu can contact the Sun386i, then the system running Clu likely has its own Ethernet interface and IPv4 stack. In that case, Clu wouldn’t need to go trough the Sun system to communicate with the remote Linux system, so maybe this is a mistake.

Maybe the Sun system has been modified by ENCOM so that it can run the grid place. Maybe it runs on a special board plugged into the Sun386i. In that case, Clu might have to go through the Sun system to communicate with the outside world. It does seem like the system would need some modification to have managed to run without hardware or power issues or even maintenance for a couple of decades. Even NASA’s deep space probes that have lasted at least that long have had hardware issues and were given software updates to work around the issues, but those probes were designed knowing that maintenance after launch would not be possible. A Sun computer, however, was made to sit in someone’s office or server farm where maintenance could be regularly administered. It still amazes me NASA made three (?) probes that functioned for over thirty years, and two of them still work and are still providing data about our solar system. I doubt any computer made for high-reliability by the likes of Sun, or HP, or IBM, could last that long without maintenance.

So, anyway, Sam Flynn finds an old Sun386i running SunOS 4.0.1 that could have been bought in 1988, using an unconventional display with touch input, although that was seen in the first Tron movie (1982), and that computer is in contact with a modern Linux system. That could open the possibility that a sequel movie could involve a copy of Clu. Such a movie could also have Rinzler/Tron; the program-process’s luminescent markings changed color as he sunk, but did not go dark.


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One Response to “Sun386i computer in Tron: Legacy; could Clu live?”

  1. This Week in WTF, July 4, 2014 | Cryptic Philosopher Says:

    […] does resemble several important plot points from the Tron sequel. No word on whether she found any old PCs mysteriously still humming along after 20+ years, holding any of her long-lost relatives […]

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