JavaSoft faces competition from freeware

Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft division is facing competition from a number of new open source or free Java virtual machines (JVMs), which could weaken Sun's control of the Java language - especially if commercial software companies were to start using them. Freeware JVM vendors such as the San Francisco-based Hungry Programmers aren't breaching their licences either.

Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft division is facing competition from a number of new open source or free Java virtual machines (JVMs), which could weaken Sun's control of the Java language -- especially if commercial software companies were to start using them.

The Hungry Programmers is a San Francisco-based group of independent hackers that is working in conjunction with OryxSoft to develop Japhar, a clean-room implementation of the Java virtual machine that is available at http://www.hungry.com/.

Japhar is Java Developers Kit 1.1.5-compatible and includes support for the Java Native Interface. However, developers will also need access to a comprehensive set of Java Class Libraries. These can be found at http://www.cs.utah.edu/~tullmann/kore/.

Meanwhile, Berkeley, California-based Kaffe, at http://www.kaffe.org/, has also produced a clean-room version of the Java virtual machine.

Although there was much hoopla about Hewlett-Packard creating its own version of the JVM, such software is actually quite common among commercial companies such as Tower Technology, at http://www.twr.com/; NewMonics, at http://www.newmonics.com/; and Instantiations, at http://www.instantiations.com/, which all have their own versions of the JVM.

Anyone can produce their own version of a JVM by simply adhering to the license. Because of this, JVMs will be compatible and therefore JavaSoft officials view competitive JVMs as unnecessary.

The Sun JVM is free now, said Jim Mitchell, JavaSoft's vice president of architecture and technology, in a recent interview with InfoWorld. But the company is beginning to sell its JVM as part of its Java JumpStart product bundle.

Meanwhile, the Japhar JVM is currently distributed under the GNU Public License (GPL).

"The charter of the Hungry Programmers is to compete with the commercial companies with free products," said Chris Toshok, lead developer of Japhar. "However, we need to look at adjusting the license to achieve this."

Meanwhile, analysts warn that freeware should be taken seriously by commercial ISVs.

"I have just been talking to the ISP community and they use a lot of freeware," said John Rymer, director and senior consultant at Upstream Consulting, in Emeryville, California.

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