Sun, facing a new attack from Microsoft on the Java front, is under the gun to make Java run better on Windows.
That's part of the vendor's plan. The question is whether it will be enough after efforts by Microsoft to entice developers to write Windows-only Java applications.
Sun today will unveil its Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1, new Java products and an Electronic Commerce Framework from JavaSoft.
The company is keeping most of the details under wraps, but Computerworld US reports that several improvements are on the way. The upgrades are aimed at giving Java an advantage in its battle against Microsoft's ActiveX and Microsoft's attempt to develop a Windows-specific version of Java.
A lot depends on what Sun comes out with, says Patrick Connolly, president of Investors Edge, a development company that runs an investment site on the World Wide Web. "Sun has to prove that it has written with Windows users in mind, and not just as a second thought. If it has, people will stay with it."
Microsoft is working on a native-code compiler for Java, which would let developers build Java applications that run faster on Windows--but only on Windows. Much of the excitement generated by Java has been based on the fact that it is cross-platform.
"I think it's missing the big point. It's dividing up the nature of Java," Connolly says, referring to Microsoft's strategy.
But Scot Wingo, co-founder of Stingray Software, a North Carolina firm that develops Java-class libraries, says he is eager to have the choice of cross-platform or Windows power.
The Windows market is 90% of what people are going to be using Java on, he says. "By tying it to Windows, it makes it so much more powerful, and you only lose 10% of the market."
Sun's JDK is a tool set that lets developers build applications. It also includes the code that lets computers run Java applications.
The expected changes in JDK 1.1 include an application programming interface for digital signatures and access control lists, which will improve Java's security; better integration with the Windows interface; Java Archive, a file format that merges many files into one so they can be downloaded faster; and Remote Method Invocation, which allows Java objects to be invoked from Java code running in other virtual machines.
The improvements are going to be very helpful, says Paul Mahowald, vice-president of retail development at Blockbuster Entertainment, in Tampa, Florida. "The competition is Microsoft's ActiveX, and the faster they can make Java, the more competitive Java will be. I'd use Java more if it was faster."