Sun Microsystems and Tele-Communications (TCI) have announced an expansion of a January agreement under which TCI will incorporate Sun's Java programming environment into millions of its advanced television set-top boxes due out next year.
Under this week's agreement, Sun's Java will now become the applications programming environment in all of TCI's advanced set-top boxes, not just some of them, as originally planned. Next year TCI plans to roll out the devices to all of its installed base, which now includes 25 million households and 18 million subscribers, a TCI official said.
As part of the deal announced at the National Cable TV Association (NCTA) Conference in Atlanta this week Sun has agreed to port its PersonalJava environment to Microsoft's Windows CE operating system.
TCI also has selected Windows CE as one of several operating systems its new set-top boxes will support, said David Beddow, Senior Vice President of TCI's National Digital Television Center (NDTC).
Asked whether TCI gave a larger contract to Sun or to Microsoft, which yesterday closed a deal with TCI for including Windows CE in the set-top boxes, Beddow said he wouldn't play a numbers game.
"Sun, Microsoft and the other operating system vendors have to perform," Beddow said. "So I would say destiny is in their hands."
TCI also obtained the option to license Sun's JavaOS for Consumers operating system, due out in the first half of 1999. In addition, TCI will support Sun's JavaTV Application Programming Interface (API), Sun executives said today.
Sun will collect an undisclosed licensing fee from TCI for each set-top box, officials said.
TCI wants to make sure that applications written for its devices are written to the Java API and not directly to any of the operating systems included with the set top box, unless there is a specific reason, such as a latency issue, which requires an application to be directly tied to a particular operating system, Beddow said.
"IP telephony for example is one application that may be written to the OS," Beddow said in a conference call today. "We define the unit and we want to make the decision on what it will include and how applications are written to it," he said.
Sun's Chairman, CEO and President Scott McNealy said that TCI will give applications developers a huge consumer platform for which to write software, with Java providing the main API and a "write once run anywhere" setting.
Sun, which is embroiled in a legal battle over the use of Sun's steaming coffee cup Java compatibility logo on Microsoft products, will itself port Java to Windows CE to make sure it works, McNealy said.
"Between ourselves and Microsoft we are the more reliable partner," McNealy said. "It (the port) will pass the compatibility test and proudly wear the Java logo."
Sun is aggressively pursuing similar licensing agreements with cable TV and satellite TV operators outside of the US, making it likely that in the short term -- six months to a year from today -- the company will announce agreement with partners oversees, Curtis Sasaki, group manager for consumer and embedded Java technologies at Sun, told the IDG News Service. He declined to elaborate.