Sun-related news from the JavaOne Developer Conference
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A few developers criticized Sun Microsystems Inc. for dragging its feet with the release of Java tools for Linux, a version of Unix which uses Intel Corp.-type processors rather than Sun's own SPARC chips. But on the whole, most developers interviewed here seemed pleased with the way Sun has managed and evolved the Java platform.
Sun has charged Microsoft with releasing a Java software development kit optimized for its Windows platform, but this has apparently stirred little fear among developers that the software giant will disrupt Java's fabled "write once, run anywhere" capabilities.
"Java is a definite breakthrough that will last for years to come," said Knut Jorstad, a software developer at Intervett AS in Oslo. "It would be hard for anyone to ruin it now. It's passed the critical mass for becoming the standard."
Microsoft will be more likely to "break its own leg" than break Java's cross-platform capabilities, said Joni Suominen, a developer with To The Point Ltd. of Helsinki. "I don't use any Microsoft products. It's common sense -- why use a Microsoft product if it doesn't work the way Java is supposed to?" he said.
Chris Burdess, a software developer with Web Development Ltd. in London, said he knows several developers who are steering clear of Microsoft's Java tools because they are unsure of their compatibility with other platforms.
However, Burdess added that he has used Microsoft's SDK and had no problems with it. "There might be (incompatibility) issues with packages that people don't use very much, like RMI, but if you're just writing applets I think it's okay," he said.
Burdess writes applications for the Linux platform, and complained that Sun takes an additional three months to release Java tools for Linux compared to its own Solaris operating system. "Sun's impetus for creating Java virtual machines (JVMs) for Linux has been a bit limited," Burdess said, adding that Sun releases the source code for JVMs to only a limited number of Linux developers.
Suominen of To The Point, who also works on the Linux platform, agreed. He said he acquires Java Workshop for Linux from Caldera Inc., which ports the tool set from Solaris. For the Java virtual machine for Linux he must turn to another Java porter, Blackdown, he said.
Linux and Solaris are similar, and it should not be difficult to release products for both operating systems, Suominen said. "Maybe (Sun is) trying to be the Microsoft of the Unix market," he said. However, he added, "Unlike Microsoft, Sun doesn't sell bug fixes, they give them for free."
A few developers said they were relieved at Sun's announcement yesterday that it will lengthen the release cycle for upgraded versions of its Java platforms and tools to around six months.
"They realized they had to do something with these release cycles. You can't go into development if you don't know what platform you're writing for," said Thomas Wust, a programmer for systems integrator Systor AG of Zurich.
However, Wust added, if Sun had not released Java API's rapidly for each segment of the market, from PCs down to embedded devices, Microsoft might have seized the opportunity to meet the need and released its own versions of the APIs, he said.
Sun expects about 14,000 developers to attend the show, which finishes Friday, making it the largest software developers conference in the world, Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division, said in his keynote address Tuesday.
Jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts were de rigeur for most attendees, and Scott McNealy, Sun's founder and CEO, and James Gosling, a Sun fellow and one of Java's chief creators, both gave their keynote addresses in jeans.
As one smartly attired journalist took his seat for Gosling's keynote Tuesday, a voice from behind chimed up: "Oh man, another dude in a suit at a Java conference."
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
"If we don't go to the courts, you don't have the compatibility, you don't have 100 percent Java. And that's why we're doing it," McNealy said, referring to a lawsuit Sun filed against Microsoft Corp. last year.
The suit alleges that Microsoft breached its Java licensing contract with Sun by implementing a version of Java in two of its products that does not meet with the specifications laid down in Sun's licensing contract. Sun won what it called a significant victory in that battle yesterday when the judge overseeing the case said Microsoft must remove the "Java-compatible" logo from the two products while the suit is underway.
If companies like Microsoft create "subsets" of the Java platform and still call them "Java," application developers will not be able to write a Java program with the knowledge that it will run on any networked device with a Java Virtual Machine, McNealy said during a question and answer session with the press after his keynote.
Sun has created different implementations of Java -- such as EmbeddedJava and PersonalJava -- that cater to the system characteristics of particular market segments, such as PCs, smart phones, smart cards, pagers, and in-car computers, McNealy said.
"But we only need one version of Java for each segment, so that when application developers write programs for one segment, they know it will run across the board, on all the devices in that segment," he said.
McNealy said the Microsoft suit, as well as the hubbub surrounding the release of a competing Java virtual machine for embedded devices by Hewlett Packard Co. last week, should be seen as mere distractions from Java's steady advance. He does not foresee Sun filing a lawsuit against HP for building the Java VM, because Sun has no reason to believe HP infringed on Sun patents that underlie Java, McNealy said.
Asked what he considers to be the biggest obstacle to the further acceptance of Java, McNealy quipped: "Zero population growth."
True to form, McNealy found time in his keynote to badmouth Microsoft. In particular he criticized the software maker for stifling competition and innovation by not releasing specifications for its new products.
In addition, he said Microsoft has developed only a few more developer APIs in its entire history than Sun has released for Java in the past three years.
McNealy listed a slew of Java-related partnerships and licensing agreements Sun has announced recently, including deals with BEA Systems Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Toshiba Corp., Motorola Inc., Tele-Communications Inc. Most of the announcements have come in the past three months he said.
"If people are saying [Java] momentum is slowing, then hurt me with that slowdown," he joked.
In his keynote earlier today, McNealy demonstrated a prototype of a "personal server" Sun has developed. Called Persona the hardware device is about the size of an electric toaster which allows users to access voice, e-mail, and fax messages remotely from either a telephone or any networked device with a Web browser.
Persona is aimed at home and small office markets. Users enter a password to dial into the device, and can hear messages read aloud by a synthesized voice or view them on a screen. The computer screen interface allows users to forward e-mail in the form of a fax or e-mail by dragging and dropping the e-mail message over the appropriate icon at the bottom of the screen.
Sun is unlikely to enter the market for consumer hardware products, but Sun is considering supplying the device to corporations for use in branch offices as part of a "total enterprise solution," said Ed Zander, Sun's chief operating officer.
Sun is working on plans to support XML (Extensible Markup Language) in future versions of Java, said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division. "We've been working on JavaBean frameworks for creating graphics and textual component. The format we're using to store and manipulate that content with is XML," Baratz said.
1999 is going to be the "big breakout year" for the network computer, Zander said. Sun announced yesterday it has begun commercial shipping of its NC, the Java Station.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
HP refused because it does not like the standards-setting process Sun follows to implement changes in the Java technology, Baratz said, speaking during a question and answer session with the journalist after a keynote speech he delivered here earlier.
HP on Wednesday said it has developed its own embedded Java VM, which is used to run Java programs in devices where little memory is available, such as printers, fax machines and pagers. The company plans to install it in printers and other products this year, and will market it aggressively as a competing product to Sun's, HP officials said.
The announcement sparked controversy, with suggestions that HP's Java VM, which HP says was built from scratch using no Sun technology, might be incompatible with Sun's and could thus derail Java's "write once, run anywhere" promise.
HP said at the time it chose not to license Sun's Java VM because Sun's licensing fee is too high, and because the product will not be ready soon enough to meet HP's needs. Sun today announced a draft specification for its EmbeddedJava platform, the final version of which is due late this year.
Baratz said that as recently as last week he offered to waive the licensing fee altogether if HP would license Sun's embedded JVM specification. He said he would have asked for some payment "in kind" in return, such as technology support in an area in which HP has expertise.
HP officials refused the offer because they said they do not like the process Sun uses to set new specifications for Java, Baratz said. HP wanted Sun to use a "traditional standards process" in which all decisions are reached through consensus by an open working group, Baratz said.
Under Sun's current system, which has been approved by the International Standards Organization, Sun engineers oversee the development of Java specifications, then submit them to Java's 140 licensees for comment. The comments are acted upon "as necessary," and the technology is then posted to the Web for a period of public comment.
Licensees collaborate on the specifications being developed, Baratz said. For example, EmbeddedJava includes input from Motorola Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Lucent Technologies Inc. But where disagreement arises, final decisions always rest with Sun, Baratz said.
"In our experience we've found that there needs to be a decision-maker in the group, otherwise the process breaks down," Baratz said.
Sun officials have yet to see how HP built its Java VM. Sun, however, expects the two companies' products to be compatible, and does not suspect HP has violated any patents that underlie the JVM technology, Baratz said.
The only requirement of licensees of Java technology is that they implement Sun's full specifications without subsets or omissions, Baratz said. Companies that do not license Java cannot use any of Sun's Java technology to build products, he said.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
"Our work to date has focused on breadth over depth -- we've been getting as much functionality into the platform as quickly as possible," Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division, told developers in his keynote address here at the JavaOne conference.
"Now that mad rush is over, and we'll focus on internationalization, and on the key enhancements you need to keep your work going forward," Baratz said.
To help developers, Baratz announced the Developer Connection, a unified worldwide developer program that consolidates Sun's existing developer resources. The program includes the Java Connection, an online service focused on aiding individual developers, Baratz said.
Baratz was joined on stage by James Gosling, a Sun fellow and one of the chief creators of the Java programming language. After assaulting a latex caricature of Bill Gates with a custard pie, Gosling told developers Java's penetration of the computing industry is continuing to build.
"There are more developers using the Java platform for building intranet applications than there are [developers] using C++, C, and Basic combined," Gosling said. He did not cite the source for his statistic.
Among the announcements touched on by Baratz and Gosling was Sun's decision to port PersonalJava, the Java platform for consumer devices, to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE. Windows CE rounds out the roster of real-time operating systems supported by Java to include the nine most popular real-time platforms, Baratz said.
"My mind boggles at the number of opportunities for developers in the consumer electronics market," Baratz said, adding that the market for consumer electronics devices is three times larger than the PC market.
Java is supported now by all of the major operating systems for PCs, workstations, servers and consumer devices, Baratz said.
To highlight the platform's continued growth, Baratz disclosed a licensing deal with Ericsson, under which the European telecommunications giant has agreed to license Sun's PersonalJava and EmbeddedJava for use in consumer devices like cellular telephones, and in its back-end telecom switching equipment.
Sun also today unveiled a new suite of tools for developers which will be included in the forthcoming Java Development Kit 1.2 (JDK), and the JavaServer Engine, a reusable software component for network-based application development and deployment, Gosling said.
"The tool kit has grown to have everything a professional user-interface developer could have. There are lots of places to plug in your own stuff, and it comes with lots of different looks and feels," Gosling said.
The company demonstrated the complexity of interfaces that can be developed with the new JDK by showing a weather-mapping software developed by WeatherLabs, which featured translucent green clouds floating over a map of the U.S. The JDK 1.2 is due in the third quarter, Gosling said.
To improve the performance of Java applications in the enterprise, Sun in May will ship Java Jumpstart 1.1, a program which ensures that Java applets run consistently on the Windows and Solaris operating systems regardless of which browser software is used, Baratz said. The next release of the software will support other operating systems, he added.
Jumpstart 1.1 will be packaged on a CD and priced at US$4,995 per server for use with unlimited desktops, Sun officials said in a press conference after the keynote. Two optional service components can be purchased separately, pricing for which were not given.
To help developers build applications for enterprise markets, Sun unveiled today the specification for its Enterprise Java Beans, a new set of application components which provide server-side support for linking databases and other back-end transaction processing systems to distributed applications.
Sun has posted a draft of the EmbeddedJava specification for public review and comment. The embedded platform is designed for use in products where memory is limited and price is premium, such as pagers, office peripherals, test and measurement equipment and telephony infrastructure, Baratz said.
--James Niccolai, IDG News Service
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