Java not meeting user expectations

Corporate developers are running into an unexpected problem with Java: user expectations.

The trouble with Sun's hot development language for the Internet is that many users are only now discovering they can't run those spiffy new Java programs.

That's because more than 80% of desktops run Windows 3.1, DOS or the 680x0-based Macintosh operating system, and those systems can't run Java software. Java support for Windows 3.1 and the Macintosh is still months away, according to Netscape, Sun and IBM, all of which are working on the problem.

Netscape's popular Navigator Web browser does support Java on Microsoft's Windows 95 and Windows NT, and on Unix systems from Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment, Silicon Graphics and other vendors. But the user reality is still Windows 3.1.

Since Sun officially released Java in February, corporate developers have been working furiously to create Java programs for customers on the Internet and employees on corporate intranets. Developers download between 2000 and 3000 copies of Sun's free Java development environment each week from Sun's official Java Web site. Commercial Java development products are also downloaded from other Internet sites.

Developers, on the other hand, are using everything but Windows 3.1 as they jump on the Java bandwagon. And Netscape's delays in supporting Java for Windows 3.1 are further delaying corporate developers who want to use Java for Internet-based client/server applications.

"Netscape tells us that they will have it sometime soon -- this week, next week, whatever week. We don't know," says a project manager at a large East Coast pharmaceutical firm. With several thousand Windows 3.1 PCs and no plans for Windows 95, the company has had to halt development of several intranet projects that would use Java on the desktop, the manager says.

It is also a problem for companies that hope to use Java to communicate with other businesses.

"We're looking at a business-to-business solution here, and we can't dictate to customers that they've got to upgrade to Windows 95 before they can use our application," says John Gawkowski, Java software architect at printing giant R R Donnelley and Sons in Chicago.

Unlike Windows 95 and NT, older operating systems such as Windows 3.1 and the Macintosh weren't designed to let applications launch several processes, or threads, at once. Java depends on that capability.

Retrofitting Windows 3.1 and Macintosh with support for threads has taken much more engineering effort than other platforms required, a Netscape spokesperson says.

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