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Java proliferates through licensing deals

Quite a few companies besides Netscape have signed up to use Sun's
executable-content technology, giving Java their "seals of approval"

By Michael O'Connell

December  1995
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Despite Sun's mild-mannered marketing tactics, Java has been the focus of lots of media attention lately, with recent coverage in BusinessWeek, Fortune, Wired (whose December feature bears a striking resemblance to SunWorld Online's July feature), and even National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," as well as numerous computer trade publications. But it is attention from vendors and developers, not the media, that Sun ultimately seeks.

And Sun seems to be getting it.

Companies are lining up to deliver Java-related products ranging from development tools to search engines. Doubters and competitors alike have begun to realize that Java is for real.

"These agreements are a tremendous validation of Java and are the clearest indication that mass acceptance of Java is underway," notes Kim Polese, Sun's Java and HotJava product manager. Polese argues that Sun's licensees "represent the leaders in their respective markets and therefore underscore the acceptance of Java in the mass market."

Netscape Communications landed the first licensing agreement this past summer, and already offers a beta version of its Navigator browser that lets users run applets written in Sun's fledgling programming language that promises to transform the Web. In recent weeks, more than a half-dozen additional companies have entered the Java cafe, and the latest word indicates that even IBM plans to license Java for use in its products.

Meanwhile, Sun has added a portable Java operating system to its roadmap, and (along with Oracle and others) expects Java to play a central role in the low-cost Internet applicances due to debut in 1996.

"The significance of the first deal with Netscape should not be lost on anyone," says Chris Warth, a former Java engineer who recently left Sun for a start-up company, Artemis Research Inc. "All the other deals hinged on the Netscape deal going through. There has been a certain amount of 'me-too'-ism and bandwagon-jumping that has followed."

Regardless of why it's happening, it's happening. Here's a rundown of some recent Java-related deals and announcements of note.


PC developer products
The big announcement of late in the developer products arena is Borland's plan to offer a Java-based rapid application development environment. The product, code-named "Latte," will be developed in Java and will focus on

Borland plans to deliver Latte in stages, and says the first commercial release should ship by mid-1996.

"Borland is Sun's ticket to PC development for Java," says Greg Weiss, a research analyst with D.H. Brown Associates. "Sun doesn't have any expertise in making PC development tools."

Since Sun embraces a licensing strategy for Java, such reliance on other companies will no doubt continue. Sun employs "a leverage strategy where other companies use Java as part of their core offerings," explains Eric Schmidt, Sun's chief technology officer.

Mac developer products
On the Macintosh front, Metrowerks Inc. promises to provide a suite of Java development tools, code-named "Wired," in mid-1996. Metrowerks will provide full Java support in its Mac-hosted CodeWarrior products beginning with CodeWarrior 9, due in time for Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in May.

Another Mac developer vendor, Natural Intelligence Inc., says it will soon begin beta testing on a development kit for creating Java applets on the Mac. Natural Intelligence's Applet Development Kit (code-named "Roaster") claims to be the first compiler for Java written by a third-party developer, the first compiler for Java that can be used on the Macintosh, and the first integrated development environment for Java applet development. A developer release is slated this month.

Java applets will also make their way into Macromedia's digital media applications. Sun and Macromedia agreed to work together to incorporate support for Java applets in Authorware and Director, and define multimedia class libraries for inclusion in future versions of Java. Macromedia also plans to build a new tool for publishing interactive multimedia information on high-bandwidth Internet networks.

Other development efforts
Of course, Netscape also is busily working on its LiveWire software development environment, which is designed for the less sophisticated developers (a "Visual Basic level of complexity") and includes a Java-compatible scripting language.

Sun itself also offers some developer products for Java fans. While Sun recently made available a beta version of its Java Developers Kit for SPARC Solaris, Windows NT, and Windows 95, a final version of the company's truly integrated development environment, "Workshop for Java," won't ship until the first half of 1996, Sun says.

Sun positions Workshop for Java as another member of its line of developer products, but for Java instead of Fortran, C, or C++. The Java tools are written entirely in Java and include

Sun's also working internally on Java for MacOS 7.5, which is expected in the first half of 1996. But Windows 3.1 developers may have to wait a while for Java to reach their platforms: When asked about Sun's timetable for porting Java to Windows 3.x, one of Sun's Java engineers replied, "We don't have the expertise needed to do this port so we are looking for a volunteer...."

"Getting Netscape was, say, 60 percent of what [Sun] had to do," Weiss says. "The biggest step has not yet happened: Getting Java running under Windows 3.1." Java will have a much better chance to succeed if Sun can establish Java on the PC platform, Weiss notes.

In the Web browser arena, Spyglass Inc. has licensed Java for integration into Spyglass Mosaic. Since Spyglass licenses its Web client and server technology to quite a few customers, Spyglass's adoption of Java will bring Java support to a significant number of people and products. (Currently, Spyglass licensees include AT&T, Digital Equipment Corp., IBM, Microsoft, NEC Corp., and Oracle, among others.) Spyglass expects its Java support will reach customers in the first quarter of 1996.

Oracle has also announced Java plans. The company's new Oracle PowerBrowser will integrate Java technology with Network Loadable Objects, a new application framework introduced by Oracle for accessing software applications and electronic documents through networks.

More to come
John Gage, director of Sun's science office, reportedly said Sun expects Lotus and Intuit to license Java technology for their respective flagship software, Notes and Quicken. Additionally, IBM's UK division reportedly has been working with SunSoft to port Sun's Java development environment to Warp, and may incorporate Java into its new server application suite.

Besides licensing deals,

Other deals also percolate, and more and more Web sites are becoming Javatized.

"I think the momentum for Java and applets are well established," says Sun co-founder and research vice president Bill Joy. "If even a fraction of the deals that are close to closing close soon, this will be clear to everyone."

"All of these licensing agreements help to bolster the perception that Java is a real technology that isn't going away soon," Warth says. "They also help to clear the field of poseur technologies like TeleScript or Lingo. The impact, hopefully, will be to make Java a truly ubiquitous technology, one that I can rely on being there when I'm on AOL, CompuServe, or the Web."

"Just as your browser has to support GIF and JPEG files, it must support Java," Weiss says.

Still, Java is by no means home free. "For Java to be successful, there will need to be significant applications/content that take advantage of it," says Ed Frank, vice president of R&D at NeTpower Inc. and a former Sun "Green Team" member. "Licensing is a step along the way, but we are still in the first quarter of the game.

"Java has mindshare today because it is very cool. Recall that [Apple Computer's] HyperCard was very cool too. Indeed, there used to be HyperCard conferences, etc. Yet today HyperCard as a programming language is irrelevant. Will the same be true for Java? No one knows. The key is to not confuse hype and interest with deployment," cautions Frank.

Java's big ambitions
Meanwhile, Sun has indicated that Java will broaden its horizons beyond the World Wide Web. Joy and others envision Java replacing C++ as the standard programming language. And there's plenty of buzz of late about the concept of $500 Internet terminals, which may incorporate an operating system written in Java and rely on Java applets. Sun licensee Toshiba America Information Systems reportedly has confirmed it is building an Internet terminal for Sun. Regardless of the hardware, Sun plans to introduce in 1996 or 1997 a light and portable microkernel-based operating system that will run Java applets.

"The initial wave of development of Java will be on the Web, and in internal ("Intranet") networks within companies," says Polese. "That's because this is where the most immediate applications of the technology are, and where the dramatic benefits will be seen first.

Eric Schmidt agrees: "I think that Java's initial success will come from the World Wide Web and (very important) the emerging corporate "Intranets" - internal corporate Internets - that hold more and more corporate data. Java applications will be a perfect match for data stored on those nets.

"As Java momentum increases I expect Java to emerge as a standalone alternative to other established languages," adds Schmidt.

"As the economics become viable, we will see Java ported to every conceivable device, from PDAs to set-top boxes, to VCRs, and even building control systems," says Polese. "Internet applicances are just one of those devices. New, lightweight operating systems will by necessity be invented to run in all these devices."

"We're lucky that the Web needs interactivity and that programmers are starting to realize that C++ is too complicated," says senior staff engineer Arthur van Hoff. "The licensing deals are the seal of approval in this respect."

Whether Java's impact turns out to be evolutionary or revolutionary still remains to be seen. But one thing seems certain: Java is real.
--Michael O'Connell

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