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Java wild

Sun's vice president of Internet strategy
envisions family of Java devices

By Carolyn W.C. Wong

June  1996
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The Unix world has certainly seen such fanfare before. Top vendors uniting to announce a new industry-standard specification has lost significance over the years. The elaborate gathering of Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer, IBM, Netscape Communications, and Oracle in late May to introduce NC (Network Computer) Reference Profile 1 was really no different. But when the chatter is of future Internet applicances -- from video phones to set-top boxes -- the enthusiasm can become even more exaggerated.

The NC Reference Profile 1 lays the groundwork for development of new network computing devices, which will supposedly fall in the $500 to $1,000 price range. This guideline provides a common set of standard features and functions that will scale across a wide variety of NCs. However, the short list of Internet standards being endorsed by more than 70 other big-name vendors aren't new. In fact, most PCs are already NC-compliant.

The standards include IP-based protocols TCP/IP, FTP, telnet, UDP, SNMP, and Sun's NFS, and World Wide Web standards HTML, HTTP, and the Java application environment. The mail protocols supported are SMTP, IMAP4, and POP3, and common multimedia formats include JPEG, GIF, WAV, and AU.

SunWorld Online talked with Bud Tribble, Sun Microsystems Computer Company (SMCC)'s vice president of Internet strategy, after the hype surrounding the announcement died down. He said Sun will focus its energies on selling NCs, or what Sun calls Java devices, to corporate intranet sites.

At the same time, Tribble said, "the Internet is a new channel to go beyond the commercial level and reach consumers." So, he doesn't rule out Sun creating a home-specific NC product. He said there will be a family of Java devices over time involving various Sun planets -- server software from SunSoft, hardware from SMCC, and Java chips from Sun Microelectronics. Tribble said Sun will introduce a Java device before the end of the year.

While Tribble sees Web technologies penetrating intranets most rapidly, the home market certainly has enormous potential. About 30 percent of American households have PCs, but only a third of those are connected to the Internet. The involvement of telephone companies providing Internet service to their customers will drive Internet connectivity growth, Tribble said, because these companies have prided themselves on delivering high quality, good service, and ease-of-use.

Tribble wants to make one thing clear: This isn't mainframe computing all over again. "People get confused with Web-based computing. This isn't a return to dumb terminals and host-based systems." Instead, Tribble said, this model combines the best features of host-based and desktop systems. "With Java you get an interactive graphical user interface, but all the system administration takes place on the server. You get local processing with central administration."

What has all this excitement centered on Java meant for object-oriented programming like C++? "Object-oriented programming is a good technique," said Tribble, "but Java blows the installed-base of object-oriented programming away. Java can run on any browser and soon on any NC." Java will also be embedded in all the major operating systems. "From the programmer perspective, Java will be on so many platforms, and it gives them a very productive language."


Still, plain old object-oriented programming is not being forgotten at Sun. Tribble said a lot of Sun's investments in NEO and CORBA have allowed it to connect different object-oriented languages together. Plus, Sun's Joe is the company's implementation of CORBA written in Java. So what Tribble refers to as object-oriented client computing will continue to progress at Sun.

"NC paves the way to Web-based computing and changes how people do computing. Web-based computing is a major paradigm," Tribble said. "People may over estimate the near-term effect, but the long-term impact is very large."

A draft of the NC specification will be available July 1, and the final version will be completed by participants in August. There will also be additional reference profiles in the future. Drafts can be reviewed at

Suppliers' products that are NC-compliant will be granted an NC brand. The branding process will be developed over the next few months. Web sites may also carry an "NC Friendly" logo if it offers some content compliant with the NC Reference Profile that can be accessible to an NC device. Tribble said participating companies still have to determine who will handle the branding process. This decision will be announced once the NC spec is finalized in August.

Some initial endorsers of the guideline are Adobe Sytems, Canon Inc., Cirrus Logic, Corel Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., France Telecom North America, Fujitsu Limited, Funai Electric Co. Ltd., Hitachi Ltd., Hyundai Electronics, Lexmark International, Lotus Development Corp., LSI Logic Corp., MasterCard International, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., Mitsubishi Electronics America Inc., Motorola Inc., NEC Corp., Olivetti, Pyramid Technology, Tatung Co., Toshiba Corp., Visa International, VLSI Technology, and Wyse Technology.
--Carolyn W.C. Wong

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