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JavaSoft readies Java for prime time

JavaOS licensees say they are ready to go

By Cate T. Corcoran

June  1996
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San Francisco -- At its JavaOne developer's conference, JavaSoft addressed shortcomings in Java that will help make the technology more of a full-fledged alternative to the Microsoft software architecture, analysts said. Developers said the announcements will put Java on more platforms and enhance its usefulness for Internet commerce and enterprise applications.

JavaSoft made five announcements:

Java offers all the promise of open systems, said Michael Goulde, senior consultant with the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston. "You write an application once, and you get access to all these platforms. You can write applications and move them around the network; you can send an application to a customer, and you don't have to care what system they are running on as long as they have a Java environment on their system," he said.

Java Beans and the new APIs will make Java more complete, allowing developers to do more without leaving the platform-independent environment Java offers, he said. Up until now, developers have been ignoring messaging rather than use OpenDoc, Active X, or some other architecture that would require compilation and regression testing for specific platforms, they said.

"[Those specifications] are inconvenient and unworkable with the Java cross-platform definition," said Barry Burke, director of product planning and management for Applix Inc. of Westboro, MA. The company has created a Java applet to make its spreadsheet accessible to non-Unix clients. The applet performs all the user-interface work, while a server slices and dices data imported from several large multidimensional databases.

"Messaging hasn't been an issue for us yet, but it's something we need," Burke said. "We're providing a spreadsheet on the desktop, and someone is going to want to cut and paste information from our application to other applications. So without Java Beans or something like it, that would be difficult or impossible."

"Java Beans will allow you to do something in Java that you might be able to do with Active X," said Chris Beall, vice president and chief technology officer of CADIS of Boulder, CO. "But if we can get the same effect out of Java, we'd much rather do it in Java. We'd much rather do all our development in one language with one staff that supports that language rather than have two of them," he said.


CADIS is using Java to create a search-and-retrieval application called Krakatoa that will allow the user to modify a query over the course of several calls over the Internet.

Java Beans will interoperate with HTML, COM, Open Doc, and LiveConnect. Java Bean components will be able to be embedded into Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Word, and Excel, Visual Basic, and other applications.

Beall also said his company is interested in the RMI API, or remote method invocation, for communicating between Java clients and Java servers. RMI is an Enterprise API for peer-to-peer and client/server messaging developed by JavaSoft. Other Enterprise APIs include JDBC, a method of accessing databases and legacy applications, and Java IDL, which implements the OMG's Interface Definition Language specification.

"Our applications are client/server," Beall said. "Our application needs to be able to talk to a Java client and a Java server inside a company's firewall. And RMI provides the most transparent mechanism for doing that that I've ever seen. It will be a replacement for the RPC mechanism we wrote ourselves." The current RMI specification doesn't allow applications to go behind a company firewall, but Sun is working on extending RMI to do that, he said.

Applix said it will use the Security APIs to verify user identities so its spreadsheet can grant users access to the appropriate level of company data. "Now we're using a very simple log-in mechanism with a user ID and a password," Burke said. The Cryptography part of the Security APIs will let Applix use digital keys and signatures, which will make Applix's customers feel much more secure, he said.

The Cryptography API includes digital signatures, encryption, and authentication. The Security API set has been designed in a layered fashion so cryptography experts can write security packages that build on the Security API, JavaSoft said. The Security API also includes management for digital keys, including a secure database.

Related APIs include the Commerce APIs, which will allow consumers to make secure purchases over the World Wide Web, according to JavaSoft. Functions include payment processing, a "shopping cart" function (for collecting purchases), and billing.

The Java Servlet API will let developers create small, executable programs that users can upload to run on networks or servers. The API defines a uniform and consistent way to access server and administrative system resources.

The Java Management API provides several objects and methods for building applets that can manage an enterprise network over the Internet, JavaSoft said. The Java Media APIs include a Media Framework for audio, video, and MIDI players; 2-D imaging and geometry and 3-D geometry; and telephony, all of which were developed in collaboration with third parties, including Intel Corp., Silicon Graphics Inc., and Adobe Systems Inc. The company also announced a subset of all the APIs for small devices called Java Embedded. This API provides a minimum level of services.

JavaOS will allow devices such as PDAs, set-top boxes, and cellular phones to connect to the Internet or other networks and download applications or information as users need it, said JavaSoft and JavaOS licensees. "The convergence of telecommunications and information technology products is something we have to recognize as an important trend across the board," said a spokesman for Nokia Americas Group of Dallas, a licensee of JavaOS. "Something that facilitates that kind of communication linkage appeals to us."

Although the company declined to discuss plans for specific products, Nokia said that it is considering using JavaOS in set-top boxes and telephones. The company said it was also interested in JavaOS because Java is becoming a popular development environment and a standard of sorts.

Other JavaOS licensees include Alcatel Business Systems, which plans to use the operating system in its interactive "smartphones," chip-maker Mitsubishi Electric Corp., and Thomson-Sun Interactive, which is developing an operating environment for interactive TV. Oracle said it would use JavaOS in its next generation of network computer reference platforms.

The operating system is designed to run in as little as 512 kilobytes of ROM and 256 kilobytes of RAM. JavaSoft said network computers will be able to run JavaOS, HotJava, and still have enough space to download Web content and applets with only 3 megabytes of ROM and 4 megabytes of RAM.

In other JavaOne news...
Meanwhile, JavaSoft has announced plans for a redesign of HotJava that will allow the browser to morph itself into various configurations that work well with particular applications. For example, the browser could turn itself into a mail client when a user clicks on, say, AT&T's Web site, or it could become a shared whiteboard in other context. The browser would be updated with the appropriate software over the network.

JavaSoft's new Web site is intended to connect software vendors with Sun's Java developers. It will debut on July 31 of this year. In addition to helping developers build applications, the Web site will also provide a channel for selling Java applications. It will include technical support, training services, the latest additions to Java, and live chat sessions with JavaSoft engineers.

A preliminary version of Java Beans is slated to ship later this year. No final ship date was announced. JavaOS is already available to licensees, who will be responsible for shipping commercial versions in their own products, said David Spenhoff, JavaSoft vice president of marketing. Preliminary versions of most of the APIs will ship this quarter. Final versions of the Security, Enterprise, and Management APIs are due this year, and final versions of the other APIs won't ship until 1997.

An early-access release of the redesigned HotJava is shipping now and available at A final version is slated to ship in the fourth quarter of this year. JavaSoft will charge developers to license source code for its HotJava class libraries and the HotJava Browser. The HotJava Browser binary is available for free for individual use.
--Cate T. Corcoran

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