In a keynote speech at Spring Comdex, Lotus Development president Jeff Papows championed the Java programming language as the cornerstone in a shift toward cross-platform, Web-intensive computing and a new generation of dynamic business applications and components.
"Java is not merely a language, but a universal environment for an application renaissance in our industry," said Papows, addressing more than 1,000 attendees during the opening day of the conference.
"[Java] is our last, best hope for a revitalised, write-once-run-anywhere, cross-platform environment," he continued. "And if we screw it up, like we screwed up Unix, then we're all going to be enormous losers as a consequence."
Papows' strong endorsement of Java positioned it as the linchpin for a new era of computing that he said will be marked by a convergence of messaging, groupware and the Web. That shift will drive collaborative, business-to-business computing, and foster the continued rise of intranets, extranets and electronic commerce, he said.
Papows appealed to Java purists, calling for the industry to push vendors to standardise on Sun's 100% Pure Java, not tinkered-with versions of the language such as that being developed by Microsoft.
"Demand that the standard be written in 100% Pure Java, not some parochialised implementation of that, is an advantage to one side or another," he said, with a thinly veiled reference to the Redmond, Washington software giant.
Papows also urged vendors to standardise on interface definition language for objects and on Internet Foundation Class libraries rather than the Application Foundation Class libraries promoted by Microsoft.
One conference attendee lauded Papows' call for standards.
"I agree with his point on standards, you can definitely see the fragmentation already, like with J++ from Microsoft," said the attendee, an employee with the University of Kentucky who asked not to be named. "The only way you can pressure Microsoft to conform to standards is by buying its competitor's development tools."
Yet another attendee expressed doubts that standardisation could be achieved. "It's not practical to think that it's really going to be open. Some vendor is always going to try to optimise Java to his own benefit," said Miguel Chalita, vice-president at Dach Technologies in Mexico.
But Chalita also said Papows was "right on the money" in predicting that business-to-business commerce holds the greatest potential of the Web. In his retail supermarket business, Chalita said he sees the potential for a so-called extranet to help him communicate with larger numbers of vendors and reduce inventory.
Papows coined the term "market-facing systems" to describe the interactive, Web-based applications that he predicts will connect companies and the marketplace so that the smallest of companies are globally accessible along with industry behemoths. And he predicted a bright future for electronic commerce, with the advent of better security like SET and Cybercash.
During a question-and-answer period following the speech, Papows said that while he was unsure of when Lotus's componentised applications - code-named Kona - will ship, he confirmed that it would be this year, possibly in October.
There will be a base system, including terminal emulation, a Notes-based mail client, calendaring and scheduling, and file transfer; this package is likely to be offered OEM-style to NC manufacturers, Papows said. On top of this will run a library of applets, likely to be sold through traditional channels.