Reality check for Java

Last week's Java Internet Business Expo (JIBE) in New York came at a difficult time for Sun Microsystems. The show came a week after Corel admitted that its 100% Pure Java poster child, Corel Office for Java, was in need of a major rewrite (Corel says it's 'not' dropping Java, as some press has reported), and many of Sun's big news announcements seemed to indicate that Sun is correcting flaws in its strategy rather than taking Java to a higher and more exciting level. So where, exactly, was java at by the time the show had closed?

Last week's Java Internet Business Expo (JIBE) in New York came at a difficult time for Sun Microsystems.

The show came a week after Corel admitted that its 100% Pure Java poster child, Corel Office for Java, was in need of a major rewrite (Corel says it's "not" dropping Java, as some press has reported), and many of Sun's big news announcements seemed to indicate that Sun is correcting flaws in its strategy rather than taking Java to a higher and more exciting level.

The second day of JIBE began on a sour note as JavaSoft's conference workers handed attendees complimentary copies of "The Wall Street Journal," which featured a cover story entitled "Java Is Finding Niches But Isn't Yet Living Up To Its Early Promises." Citing the fact that most Web sites are doing cute graphics with animated gifs rather than Java and that no single corporate customer has abandoned Microsoft technology for Java, the story concluded that "there is widespread evidence that the dream of using Java as an alternative to Microsoft's dominant Windows operating system is faltering."

Some would say that it is Microsoft Office and not Windows that is threatened. Shane Maine, CEO of custom software developer Sanga International Inc. notes "in the Java space, there is a lot of hype about applets and client-side software." But, he says, "beyond the hype is component-based, server-side Java. What changes the space is where you have SAP-like applications written in Java." And those, adds Maine, are coming.

Sun had difficulty producing realworld customers who have implemented enterprise-wide Java applications. Sun CEO Scott McNealy didn't trot any out for his keynote, choosing instead to display a variety of gimmicky Java-enabled rings, watches, and other consumer devices.

Conference attendees seemed to agree that enterprise adoption of Java has been delayed by a lack of JDK 1.1 clients and development environments. IDC's Java research director, Evan Quinn, points out that the rapid application development (RAD) tools used by most business developers do not yet support JDK 1.1, though companies like Borland and Symantec are expected to ship such products in the next two weeks. "I think that will provide a satisfactory level of development options," he says.

And on the client side both Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer are expected to ship with JDK 1.1 support in September - seven months after JavaSoft's release of the development kit.

To address this lag, Sun announced that, along with IBM and Netscape it was forming the Java Porting and Tuning Center where Virtual Machine (VM) implementors will be able to tune and develop their VM's alongside of JavaSoft engineers. Jon Kannegaard, Sun (JavaSoft)'s vice president of software products, says Netscape will ship a revised 1.1 VM, tuned with Sun's help, sometime in November. He adds that Sun is also taking steps to eliminate incompatibilities in the different virtual machine implementations by shoring up the Java Compatibility Kit, which VM licensees are required to use to ensure VM compatibility. Before, he admits, "the Java Compatibility Kit wasn't sufficient and passing the test didn't mean much."

Kannegaard expects other implementors like Borland and Symantec to participate in the Porting and Tuning Center, but Microsoft doesn't seem likely to join unless its developers force it. Microsoft's Internet platform program manager Charles Fitzgerald observes, "centralising development chokes off innovation and competition. Take class libraries for example. AWT was buggy, slow, and not a very functional class library, yet Sun was not doing anything to address this until Microsoft introduced AFC. Competition turns out to be pretty good for the industry."

But Microsoft has vowed not to adopt standards in the past before making an about-face. IDC's Quinn says, "I think there is a wide disparity between what Microsoft is saying and what Microsoft is doing with Java internally."

From HotJava to Javigator

Another change in direction is a deal between Sun and Netscape that will result in a Java version of Navigator, called the Javigator by Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, instead of Sun's own HotJava browser being included as the browser for Sun's JavaStations. Netscape says it will integrate its HTML rendering technology with HotJava to make Javigator. Though pundits have speculated that the all-Java browser is another attack on the Windows operating system, it seems more likely to have an impact on Windows CE than Windows 98. Sun's Kannegaard says, "where we're going with HotJava is the low end. It's about having HTML rendering in a kiosk or a Web phone."

As part of the agreement, JavaSoft has promised to include Netscape's HTML rendering component as a JavaBean component of the Java Development kit.

JIBE organizer Softbank says the show drew 16,000 attendees - not bad for a first try. And while most vendors claimed they were happy with both the quality and quantity of the turnout, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before the show is all Sun wants it to be. According to one show attendee, a programmer with a $4 billion company who said his manager was at SAP's Sapphire '97 users convention in Orlando, Florida, "Java still has the stigma with most managers as being "just a language," and therefore only appropriate for "pointy hats." But, he said that it was a mistake for his company not to have a manager there - one that, he predicted, will not happen next year.

Other JIBE News

Sun joined Netscape, Novell, and @Home Network in proposing Marimba's Distribution and Replication Protocol (DRP) for standardization within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Unfortunately, the next day, software management company Novadigm Inc. announced it was suing Marimba, claiming that DRP used technology protected by Novadigm's patents. Now the W3C must consider how badly it wants to standardize technology that could get its implementors sued for royalties. Sun is unlikely to be greatly affected by the suit. Sun's Kannegard says it had no specific plans for RDP. "All that we've done is throw some technical people at it."

Sun announced that it has completed its acquisition of network applicance software maker, Diba Inc. Sun also unveiled a number of consumer product reference designs for Diba's OEM customers.

Sun announced that it would be shipping the JavaEngine 1 board by the end of the year. The 7-inch-by-7-inch board will be powered by a 100-MHz microSPARC IIep processor and bundled with the JavaOS. It will cost about US$385 in OEM quantities of 10,000.

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