Java's difficulty goes down bitter, but new tools may add cream

What's the deal with all those other coffee-flavored products pouring into the
marketplace--HotJava, JavaScript, Roaster, Espresso and Shockwave? And what are government
sites doing with them?


The answer so far is: very little. You can visit places like Leigh Brookshaw's resource
page at http://www-igpp.llnl.gov/people/brookshaw/java/
 
at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to see how Java can be used for
graph plotting.


Brian Millar, a network analyst at the Air Force's Rome Laboratory in New York, has
built a multimedia introduction to the Rome Lab with Java. Visitors with Java-enabled
browsers can see extra buttons and graphics. But Millar told me he doesn't plan to
maintain it and may even remove it from the server. Look fast, it's at http://155.244.30.103:8080/javafacility.html.
 


Then there's an engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington working on a
Java page where users can literally listen to a satellite. No address to share. It's not
ready yet.


As you can see, these pages are early experiments. Virtually no one in the government
has a heavily maintained, active Java site. Java isn't taking off as rapidly as straight
HyperText Markup Language documents on the Web because Java development is a
time-consuming business best left to programmers.


Possibilities for it, of course, are endless. Imagine visiting the House or Senate Web
sites and seeing constantly updated still images of the action on the floor. That sort of
thing already can be done using the "server push" function on Web servers. But
server push is jerky and unreliable; Java is much smoother.


How about a stock ticker-like stream of data at the Securities and Exchange Commission
site? Or weather maps in motion at the National Weather Service? Or a steady stream of
crop predictions on an Agriculture Department page?


Today, that would be a royal maintenance headache, because Java is difficult to use.
But it will change. Here are some of the terms going through the grinder in Javaland.


Java itself is an object-oriented, multithreaded programming language Sun originally
developed for handheld computer devices communicating over networks. Users say Java's not
much different from C++, except that it's platform-independent.


I've been playing with a developer release of Roaster, an applet development
environment for the Apple Macintosh from Natural Intelligence Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. If
I manage to create anything I want to share (I haven't yet), my new Java applets will run
on a Mac, Windows NT or Unix server.


Applets, by the way, are small programs fed to Java-enabled browsers by the servers
they visit. They don't stay on the browser's machine after the user disengages from a
site.


Sun's Web browser, HotJava, like Netscape Communications' Navigator 2.0, will
automatically load Java applets from a Web site enabled for Java. HotJava runs now on Unix
systems. Early versions are available for Windows and Apple Macintosh.


The JavaScript scripting language helps developers embed executable Java objects, like
applets and third-party plug-ins, in documents that will be viewed by Java-enabled
browsers.


Symantec Corp.'s Espresso Java development kit for Windows 95, now in beta release, is
similar to Roaster.


Shockwave, a Netscape Navigator plug-in, plays files created in Macromedia Inc.'s
Director animation application. It's similar to Java but unlikely to be so widely adopted.


For one thing, the Microsoft Windows 95 Internet Explorer can't use Shockwave, because
it doesn't follow Netscape's plug-in architecture. The Internet Explorer doesn't recognize
Java, either, but Microsoft is working with Sun to change that.


For an extensive list of Java applets, complete with reviews and pointers to programmer
resources, check out EarthWeb's Java directory at http://www.gamelan.com.


Shawn P. McCarthy, GCN's software and systems editor, is an Internet explorer.


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