Sun and IBM's operating system for network computers will feed a new demand for up-to-date computing systems, rather than replace desktop PCs, the two companies say.
Sun and IBM plan to make the new software, dubbed JavaOS for Business, available by the third quarter of this year. The operating system, which will be based on Sun's Java language, will be targeted at the huge installed base of terminals connected to central mainframe computers, according to officials from the companies.
The announcement "clearly positions NCs as additive to the PC, not as a replacement for the PC," said Janpieter Scheerder, president of Sun subsidiary Sunsoft Inc. and corporate executive officer of Sun Microsystems, during a press conference today.
When Java and NCs were originally announced by Sun, IBM and Oracle, they were pitched as entities that would compete directly against PCs and, consequently, desktop software monarch Microsoft. Currently, however, thin-client proponents downplay that battle, since their smaller-than-PC products support Microsoft's Windows operating system.
"You can't sell a thin client if you don't support Windows," says Norm Bogen, senior analyst at In-Stat Group in Scottsdale, Arizona.
IBM and Sun say they will encourage companies to replace aging terminals with slim NCs running the new Java operating system. Many terminals used for applications such as help desks, reservation centers and order entry could be replaced by NCs running the new operating system, the companies say. In addition to NCs, JavaOS for Business will also run on updated terminals such as Internet kiosks and ticket machines.
IBM will put the new operating system to use in high-end NCs such as its NetStation in early 1999, while Sun will begin to replace the existing version of JavaOS in its JavaStation NCs with JavaOS for Business over the next year.
Sun and IBM also plan to license JavaOS for Business to other companies, such as computer and component manufacturers, and that version will be available in the third quarter, the companies say.
JavaOS for Business will run on thin clients connected to most types of servers and mainframes, the companies said. It will support the ability to implement a wide range of device drivers and will offer better manageability functions than the existing version of JavaOS, the companies say.
Both companies say specifics will be announced closer to the third-quarter shipment date.
Analysts say the joint IBM-Sun Java-based operating system will certainly help drive the standardisation effort for Java on thin clients. However, the real significance of the announcement may be the reassurance it gives to developers and others about the fragmentation of NCs and the write-once, run-anywhere promise of Java, they say.
"They just wanted to allay those concerns, which they did," said Bogen.
Reassurance is especially needed in light of Hewlett-Packard's announcement last week that it is releasing its own version of a Java virtual machine for embedded systems and Microsoft's subsequent announcement that it will use that software in its Windows CE operating system, analysts say.
"Both Sun and IBM want the world to know that the NC will not be disturbed by this," says Tim Sloane, director of Internet infrastructure at Aberdeen Group in Boston. "It's a calming effect on the market."
But the calm belies a storm that still rages, in spite of IBM and Sun's stance that NCs are supplementary to PCs. The companies must bide their time while the stock of Java-based back-office applications and desktop applications grows, but once the volume of applications reaches critical mass, the battle will be joined once again, analysts say.
"Clearly both IBM and Sun expect the breadth of Java applications to increase, and I'm confident that they think sometime down the road the NC may challenge the Windows desktop," Sloane says.
In-Stat's Bogen agreed. "They're regrouping by not saying that Java's going to replace Windows and (that) they'll coexist, but believe me, they want it to replace Windows," he said.