JavaSoft has unfurled a series of enhancements to its Java APIs at Internet World in Chicago while showcasing a series of ISVs for the 100% Pure Java branding initiative.
The Sun division attempted to deflect criticism, particularly from Microsoft, on the performance of its Windows Java run-time environment with the release of its Java Performance Runtime for Windows. The upgrade includes a Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1-level implementation of the Java virtual machine, Java class libraries, and Symantec's just-in-time compiler.
The company also announced that about a dozen developers plan to use the PersonalJava technology for linking consumer devices, such as smart phones and handheld computers, to networks, including the Internet.
In addition, JavaSoft officials said the Java Card 2.0 specification for smart-card applications will be released for public comment in September. The company previewed the Java Accessibility API for adding screen readers, braille terminals, speech recognition, and other user-interface technologies for users with disabilities.
JavaSoft also announced the first 38 applications certified through its 100% Pure Java program and said that about 100 more applications are close to certification.
Advancing its JavaBeans component model, JavaSoft this week posted its InfoBus beans-integration technology, co-developed with Lotus, for feeding structured data to JavaBeans, and released its JavaBeans-to-ActiveX bridge and ActiveX-to-JavaBeans conversion utility.
JavaSoft previewed features, such as drag-and-drop component development and the capability to host one JavaBean in another, in the JavaBeans version, code-named Glasgow, set for release with JDK 1.2 later this year.
Initial 100% Pure Java applications include workflow, desktop business, personal finance, financial analysis, email, and middleware.
In the long term, JavaSoft hopes to flatten the remaining speed bumps in the cross-platform Java environment with the HotSpot dynamic compilation technology it acquired earlier this year with LongView Technologies. HotSpot promises to rival native platform performance of C++ with so-called adaptive optimization, permitting Java code to run first in interpreted mode and then be analysed and optimised to target the parameters of each platform, said Eric Chu, JavaSoft's Java Development Kit (JDK) product manager.
Meanwhile, Microsoft officials at Windows strategy briefings have blasted the concept of a cross-platform formula as impractical and inefficient. Paul Maritz, group vice president, said layering JavaSoft's Java Foundation Classes (JFC) on top of the Windows platform was pointless because developers can access Windows directly with Java.
"If an OS adds a new feature and the OS has a large market share, then it is economically crazy not to take advantage of that," Maritz said.
Referring to JFC and Windows, "We have no intention of shipping another bloated OS and shoving it down the throats of our users," Maritz added.
Microsoft's performance advantages on Windows will continue to hinder JavaSoft until and unless the Sun division delivers on the promise of its HotSpot Java virtual machine technologies, analysts say.
But developers could have to wait until late 1998 before they can take advantage of the faster Java environment, which is slated for release with the JDK update in the first quarter of 1998.
The wait for the HotSpot-enabled Java platform could be worth it, according to one analyst.
"Certain parts of Java code don't get compiled down to native code, and other applications don't [repeatedly] execute the same instructions, so a JIT compiler won't improve performance as much," explains Anne Thomas, a senior consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston.
But Microsoft officials who assessed the HotSpot technology say it will only be useful in a narrow set of applications.
Though important, speed is only one variable in the choice of language for server applications, according to observers and licensees.
"Developers don't ask about Java performance relative to C++ for server-side applications. They're not just after performance," says Zack Urlocker, vice president of product management at Borland, in Scotts Valley, California.
Indeed, one analyst says regardless of when the HotSpot technology surfaces, JavaSoft is ultimately less concerned with raw speed.
"Lurking behind all of this is the fact that the JavaSoft people don't really expect to hit these performance issues for a while," says John Rymer, an analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Whether developers opt for platform-specific hooks or toe a cross-platform line remains to be seen.
"Most of our server work is done for Windows NT, and it's not critical to us that server-side code can be portable," says Jim Flynn, general manager of @Work Technologies, in New York.
A developer at a major Java licensee said, though cross-platform Java holds long-term promise, platform-specific hooks are necessary.
"We've basically jumped through hoops not to use Microsoft stuff, but that's increasingly difficult," the developer says. "Only if we're not sure where customers are going to go - NCs, or other platforms, and if they don't want lockout - then we try to put up a scaffolding where Java is missing stuff and toe the 100% Java line long-term."