The company that helped launch the idea of a network computer (NC) may be missing its own boat.
Sun Microsystems has, for the second time in eight months, postponed general shipment of its JavaStation NC. The thin-client device now is scheduled to be ready by April 1998.
When first unveiled in October 1996, the computer was scheduled for release in the third quarter of 1997, a date that was later pushed back to late fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Sun's rivals are moving ahead. IBM next week will announce a year-end delivery for its $999 IBM Network Station Series 1000, an NC specifically designed to exploit Java applications.
The Network Station will be bundled with the eSuite Java business applets from Lotus. The eSuite is scheduled to ship within 90 days.
What's the problem?
JavaStation beta sites have been demanding better performance from Java applications, full support for the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1 and the freedom to run the JavaStations against servers other than Sun's, according to Sun and industry analysts.
Another problem has been with the JavaOS, a set of class libraries combined with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Sun has been waiting for the final version of JDK 1.1, which blends the latest JDK APIs with the JavaOS, and the subsequent testing and inevitable bug fixes.
"Most of the other vendors with NC products are not pure Java," says Tom Rhinelander, an analyst with Forrester Research. "But Sun is trying to incorporate its HotJava browser, the HotJava Views user interface and all the other pieces on both the client and server side. And [Suns] trying to figure out how to do the operating system."
If Sun can deliver a solid product, the delay probably will not hurt the company in the long run, according to Randy Gernaat, an analyst with Datamonitor, a market research company with offices in New York and London. "We're not seeing huge numbers of NCs being sold right now. They're being bought by earlyadopters," he said.
A recent study by Gernaat, "The Future of Network-based Computing," projects that in five years about 11% of all desktop computer sales will be NCs or other thin-client devices.
Besides the built-in, Java-based Netscape Navio browser, the IBM Series 1000 includes a separate JVM, which is compatible with JDK 1.1.
The Series 1000 also will have a special program, called a just-in-time compiler, which makes Java applications run faster. Finally, IBM plans to outfit the computer with a more powerful 200-MHz Power-PC microprocessor than the 66-MHz Series 300 features.