Sun turns to Ice Tea to bolster Java

In an effort to hasten the acceptance of its nascent Java programming language in mainstream corporate IS, Sun Microsystems is working to bolster Java's links to legacy and client/server applications.

Toward that end, the company is readying low-level networking middleware, code-named Ice Tea, that promises to connect Java-based clients to the greater enterprise via a reliable and secured socket-level TCP/IP network connection.

"Ice Tea is a prototype. We're trying to explore ways of easily converting existing applications to allow them to have a Java front end, or universal client," said Larry Weber, vice president and general manager of SunSoft's developer products group. "We're building class libraries and tools so we can experiment. Ice Tea is one of those experiments."

"We built a turnkey set of libraries that creates a connection, does the communications, and tears [the connection] down at the right time. It's like a black box for sockets programming," Weber said.

Unlike Sun's CORBA-specific Java Objects Everywhere (JOE) middleware, Ice Tea will provide messaging over TCP/IP networks between thin clients running Java objects and back-end systems, officials said. Ice Tea, which is currently at the prototype stage, will move Java closer to fulfilling the requirements of corporate sites and ISVs for deploying mission-critical and secure applications, according to analysts.

"At the 100,000-foot level, it's all got to do with getting Java as matured as possible as quickly as possible," said Evan Quinn, research manager for application development tools at International Data Corp., a market research company in Framingham, Mass.

In addition to JOE, Java must meet many connectivity requirements to become mainstream, observers said. Analysts expect Sun and other vendors to provide many middleware products to ensure that Java applications can tap in to the data residing in corporate America's installed base of applications.

"To get beyond client-side Java browsers, you need the operating system vendors to embed the Virtual Machine in their operating systems, and you need to get connectivity out to installed systems, tools, databases, and transaction-processing monitors," Quinn said.

Third-party developers lauded Sun's efforts to bolster the connectivity and security features of Java.

"Ice Tea, along with some of the things they announced with their commerce library [for doing on-line commerce with Java], will make it easier to access secure transport protocols," said a third-party Java developer.

"[To streamline network traffic], there also need to be packaging methodologies for taking [HTML document] forms and flattening them out to HTTP for taking them across networks," the vendor added.

SunSoft officials declined to provide packaging or delivery dates for the Ice Tea technology.

(Additional reporting by Paul Krill.)

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