The inclusion of the Java object-oriented programming language in a range of operating systems will ease cross-platform development for all applications and will free users from the hegemony of the Windows operating system, according to observers.
Sun Microsystems announced at Internet World in San Jose this week that Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Novell, Silicon Graphics, Hewlett-Packard, The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), Hitachi and Tandem will embed Java in their operating systems, making the language accessible to developers of those platforms and to end users.
An executive at Apple, which competes with the massive Windows installed base for which most applications are written first, has made it clear that Java in the operating system will make all software development platform-independent.
"Java is an integral part of all operating systems and available to all applications," says Larry Tesler, vice-president of Internet platforms at Apple, in a conference call about the announcement. "It will level the playing field for operating systems."
At least one Java developer agrees.
"Until now, all the press Java has been getting is as a Web development language. Suddenly it's a real, viable language to do any software development," says Ian McFarland, cofounder of Neo Communication, a Web publisher in San Francisco.
"There's no reason why people can't write full applications in Java and port them to different platforms. This idea that you need to wait until software is available for your machine" is an idea that will become obsolete, he says. "Now, software will be easily available for every environment that supports Java."
Java has other subtle advantages, McFarland says, including its native support for networking and the fact that it reduces time to market for developers, particularly for multiplatform development.
Sun will announce new APIs (application programming interfaces) at the first JavaOne Conference, on May 29 to 31 in San Francisco, says Bill Joy, founder of Java creator Sun Microsystems and vice-president of research at Sun's JavaSoft division. The APIs, he says, "will allow people to write full applications that can be downloaded over the Net."
Under the new model, JavaSoft will license the Java Virtual Machine and class libraries to the operating system companies, which will then provide the Java implementation for their platform and expose Java as binaries in the operating system.
The licensees get the Java source code and can modify the Java reference implementations within their own operating system environments, but JavaSoft retains the right to license the source code to developers and others, says Alan Baratz, president of JavaSoft.
Sun will "encourage extensions or improvements to the Java platform and ask that specifications be made open and returned to JavaSoft for incorporation back into the reference implementation" for sharing with all licensees, says Baratz.
A future Sun announcement related to new markets for Internet terminals, consumer devices and embedded controllers, will involve "a version of the Java platform that can live directly on the hardware," he says.
Baratz also says that incorporating Java into the operating system will enable real-time transaction processing. "Java applets can now establish direct connections themselves to the system and invoke objects through the CORBA architecture and execute remotely," to transfer data, he says.
The newest licensees announced their Java intentions in the teleconference and in press releases:
-- Apple plans to use Java in its Macintosh, Pippin and Newton operating systems, as well as in its media authoring technologies, Internet servers, client software and in CyberDog, its OpenDoc-based Internet suite.
-- IBM "never really thought of Java as a browser technology," says John Patrick, vice-president of Internet technology at IBM. The company plans to roll Java-operating system integration out across all its client and server product lines this year, he says. Java will be included in the next release of Lotus Notes, which is due before September, as well as with the next releases of OS/2, S/390, OS/400 and Windows 3.1, Patrick says.
Java applications can already be downloaded to Java browsers through IBM's Internet Connection Server for MVS/ESA, and Java applications can use IBM's Java client middleware to access IBM's CICS and DB2 servers, according to an IBM press release with a heading "Cafe without Ole", in reference to Ole, Microsoft's rival technology to Java.
-- Microsoft, meanwhile, will incorporate Java in future versions of Windows 95, Windows NT, Internet Explorer 3.0 and the ActiveX architecture on client and server, according to Microsoft spokesman Cornelius Willis.
-- SCO will include Java in its SCO Internet Family, which features Internet FastStart, which was announced this week, and also in Gemini, its merged Open Server-UnixWare OS, early next year.
-- SGI will embed Java in Irix; SunSoft will put it into Solaris; and HP will tune the Java run-time environment, adding a just-in-time compiler and including it in future releases of HP-UX, as well as in its new Praesidium server.
-- Novell announced in March its plans to embed the Java Virtual Machine in NetWare this year and will include it in GroupWise later this year.
JavaSoft, based in Mountain View, California, can be reached on the Web at http:/www.sun.com.