Netscape's Andreessen lays out Java enterprise strategy

Netscape is planning to rewrite two of its key software packages in the Java programming language. In addition to rewriting the Communicator client software and SuiteSpot Internet server software in Java, the company plans to include an object store in the client and enable users to run Java applications from their hard disks.

Netscape Communications will rewrite two of its key software packages next year in the Java programming language, said Marc Andreessen, the company's chief technical officer, at the GigaWorld IT Forum .

In addition to rewriting the Communicator client software and SuiteSpot Internet server software in Java, the company plans to include an object store in the client and enable users to run Java applications or applets from their hard disks, Andreessen said.

"There are people who would argue that obesity has set in Communicator but an object store is not really symptomatic of obesity," he said. "Windows 95 has 15 million lines of code in it - that is more that MVS mainframe software."

With the Java-based client, Netscape will get back a true thin-client architecture, Andreessen said.

The Java version of Communicator will include a basic client kernel runtime written in Java that will run on a virtual machine, according to Andreessen. Extra components will be written in JavaScript and downloaded when necessary to the client and published in HTML.

One user attending the conference welcomed the core of Andreessen's message but was not interested in the company's political push against Microsoft.

"I could have done with less marketing hype from his speech and more technical answers," said Skip Smith, planning and project manager for Southwestern Bell's Yellow Pages Division. "However, we're now being forced to build extranets and we need to look to CORBA or Active X and Java to build them because it's simply not practical to tell our customers or suppliers to standardise on, say, Windows NT. But we're not at all sure that we want to bet on Netscape being here for the long haul."

Netscape's Java evangelism is ironic since Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 is a better platform for running Java applications than Netscape's Communicator platform, according to Fred Winograd, chief technologist for investment firm Montgomery Securities.

"Netscape has a hell of a challenge ahead of it since Communicator doesn't run Java applets very well," said Winograd. "I am not at all convinced that CORBA's security is up to the tasks that Netscape would have them do, and Sun Microsystems really needs to get its story straight on where RMI (remote method invocation) is going before it expects us to take it seriously."

Netscape will also build its software strategy on JavaBeans, according to Andreessen.

The basic approach is that applications such as services will be exposed as JavaBeans, wired together with CORBA (common object request broker architecture), and published as HTML, he said.

Even CORBA services such as load balancing will be exposed as JavaBeans. "We will be using JavaBeans as a component model," he said. "We would have used OLE only it was too tightly to tied to Windows, or OpenDoc only it was too complex."

At least one analyst was sceptical of Andreessen's pitch.

"He is really only giving half the picture here," said John Rymer of Giga Information Group. "I would not recommend that companies bet their business on CORBA until some of its discrepancies are sorted out."

Andreessen also said that the company will broaden and deepen its relationship with Marimba but that he was not ready to make any announcements.

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