Lured by the promise of platform independence, vendors including Lotus, Hewlett-Packard and Sun are preparing email clients that use Java code.
Sun's JavaSoft division will announce later this month an email product code-named Krakatoa, which was written entirely in Java script. Lotus, HP and Novell have also successfully created Java clients, and Commtouch Software will introduce its Pronto Java email product this week at Email World in Boston.
Vendors are showing enthusiasm about the possibility of cross-platform use. But analysts say there is still a long way to go. "Mail is a killer app for Java," says Ed Zander, president of Sun Microsystems Computer, a Sun subsidiary. "If you can get Internet mail done right with Java, you can start having heterogeneous mail servers communicating."
Novell has no immediate plans to market a plain Java email product but is writing a client internally. "Simple email written in Java could be a very cheap alternative to multiple resource-draining applications," says Eldon Greenwood, director of product management at Novell, in Orem, Utah.
"There's a potential to dramatically reduce the cost factor of email because you're reducing the number of client/software components that have to be managed," says Alex Morgan, electronic commerce programme manager at HP, in Cupertino, California.
Lotus will announce its Java email plans later this month -- but is not just betting on Java. "The idea of a universal client is hugely appealing, and we've succeeded in creating a Java mail client," says Larry Jones, Lotus cc:Mail product manager, in Mountain View, California. "But we're not religious about Java as the only solution. It could also be ActiveX or a combination of HTML and Java."
Potential users says they love the notion of cross-platform email, especially for network computer (NC) devices. "These products could lessen the administrative burden of email systems enormously but are most appropriate if you expect to have NCs in your mix of systems," says Thomas Murray, integrated solutions marketing manager at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Technologies, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Analysts say they are intrigued by the possibilities of borderless email but see obstacles ahead. "The idea that you can have an email client interoperating with PCs, NCs and Unix systems is incredibly powerful, but there's still a lot of ground to be covered before these products have full functionality," says Mark Levitt, an analyst with International Data, in Framingham, Massachusetts.
A thin client will not allow email attachments, even those written in Java, undermining claims that Java email can immediately substitute for other messaging standards.
Microsoft officials say interest in Java is detracting from standard Internet email protocols. "The focus shouldn't be on Java but on the POP3 client that allows you to access mail," says Dave Malcolm, product manager at Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington.