While Sun executives insist that the company's Java programming language is heralding a paradigm shift in computing, industry analysts and observers are wondering out loud how many large corporations are ready to quickly jump on this new bandwagon.
Sun head Scott McNealy, flanked by a handful of Sun executives, sang a victory song in New York earlier this week as the company unveiled its Network Computer (NC) and related Java products, proclaiming the PC computing model useless. (See Sun unveils JavaStation.)
Yet instead of repeating blanket statements about the advantages of Java, Sun executives are targeting their message to large corporate customers. Although the company in the past has extolled the benefits of Java in every product category from network appliances to cellular phones to mainframe computers, McNealy is making it clear that its JavaStation thin client is intended strictly for corporate use.
McNealy also says that getting the JavaStation into corporations for use on intranets will be the first step in bringing about this paradigm shift to cheaper, easy-to-manage computing. "The first step is intranets; companies have to get on the Web," McNealy says.
Once intranets become pervasive, companies will begin opening up their networks to "trusted" partners to partake in electronic commerce over extranets, McNealy says, and eventually the consumer will get involved when electronic commerce over the Internet becomes commonplace.
Yet large enterprises may not be so quick to replace even some of their PCs with NCs, analysts say. The JavaStation's newness and comparative inflexibility, mixed with the lack of native Java application choice, may put companies in a wait-and-see mode.
"It's really for specialised business situations," says Mark Huey, an analyst with Meta Group, in Stamford, Connecticut. "It's geared at very definite computing needs, not at creative, free-form applications." The fact that the JavaStation has such heavy dependence on servers and can only reach them through an Ethernet connection could limit the JavaStation's potential user base, another analyst says.
Sun has committed to adding other connection options, such as faster Ethernet, dial-up, and ISDN, to JavaStation next year, but that might be too late.
"The Ethernet-only situation surprised me. Sun will have to establish other connectivity methods very fast to compete," says Sandy Sampson, principal analyst with InfoSpin, in Medford, New Jersey.
Despite Sun's claim that there are over 300 commercial Java applications on the market, analysts still question whether these programs are numerous enough, and useful enough, to woo customers.
Also, although Sun will bundle client software from Insignia Solutions Inc. to provide emulation of Windows applications on the JavaStation, this technology has existed on Unix for years but did not turn that operating system a mainstream one, says Meta Group's Huey.