Can Java give Ada 95 a new lease on life
- By Lisa Finnegan
- Apr 01, 1996
Federal users of Ada 95 hope the less-than-popular programming
language can move into the mainstream with a forthcoming compiler that will convert Ada
code into Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java applet language.
AppletMagic, the conversion program designed by Tucker Taft of Intermetrics Inc.,
incorporates the AdaMagic front-end compiler to create Java code readable by most Web
Conversion potentially could port Ada programs into all common operating environments
while maintaining tight security, said Taft, who was technical leader of the Ada 95 design
"I think Sun has done a very good job in terms of security," he said.
"Java is a relatively tight system, and when you couple our Ada compiler with Java,
you get double security, because you go through checks on both ends." Intermetrics
had to improve its AdaMagic compiler, he added, because Java's byte-code verifiers are
"very picky" about security.
Taft, who is chief scientist at the Cambridge, Mass., company, began studying Java
about a year ago and was impressed by its similarity to Ada.
"When I first looked at Java I thought, "Wow, somebody really knew what we
needed because it's all there,' " he said. "Java is similar to Ada in its
underlying philosophy and techniques."
Intermetrics received a $250,000 matching grant from the Ada Joint Program Office to
develop AppletMagic. If it performs successfully, AJPO will promote it for critical
Defense Department software such as the Global Command and Control System.
"We think this has great potential," AJPO director Chuck Ingall said.
"We really believe we need to get Ada 95 into a more standardized environment, and
this may help us do that. The downside is that people believe there are holes in Java
Ingall said he's waiting for Java to come out of beta testing before passing judgment
on its security.
"I see the potential to use this to bring GCCS over to a client-server
architecture," he said. "We're considering future negotiations with Intermetrics
and others to see if this can be applied specifically to GCCS."
Ingall said he hopes the Java compiler will help DOD maintain the portability and
readability of Ada while leveraging on Java's heterogeneous machine support. Java applets
run in a "virtual machine" software layer on many platforms.
Taft said Ada 95 could be "the first to jump on platform-independent graphical
Mike Stark, a software developer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Flight Dynamics
Division, said he's looking to the compiler to transfer existing Ada files to the
"This is something I'm very interested in, because we work almost exclusively in
Ada," he said. "We've been trying to figure out how to get some stuff on the
Web, and this compiler would enable it."
Since Intermetrics began developing the conversion compiler, there has been "a
great deal of federal interest," Taft said. "There seems to be the feeling that
[Ada] could die. In fact, I think a lot of languages are going to die once Java gets
AppletMagic is expected to be released in June at a cost of $50 to $200 per user, Taft
said. Meanwhile, it's downloadable for free testing from Intermetrics' Web site at http://www.inmet.com/javadir/download/.
If AppletMagic works as planned, "It would be the best of both worlds for
us," Ingall said. "There seems to be a one-to-one mapping between Java and Ada,
so I think this will work out and be well used in DOD."
Claims by Sun Microsystems Inc. officials that Java is smoother, more efficient and
less clunky than Ada have raised a ruckus among supporters of the Defense Department's
mandated programming language.
Sun managers, touting Java's benefits at a recent conference in Washington, took a few
potshots at Ada, which they said will be supplanted by Java.
"Ask any Ada programmer whether they'd like a little more flexibility," said
John Gage, Sun's chief science officer. "Java is a much better way for the government
to handle a lot of the operations that are done in Ada now."
John Leahy, government affairs director at Sun Microsystems Federal, said he considers
Ada impractical for most of the government's needs.
"Java is really what DOD is looking for," Leahy said. "I say that
because they want a single common language that is maintainable and secure. Java becomes
an ideal replacement for Ada, because you can write the application one time and it is
Leahy added that Java's simplicity makes it far easier to isolate and identify needed
"It's much easier for the end user who needs one piece of information, knows the
applet and can pull it down," Leahy said. "It's much better than having a large
command-and-control application that keeps pushing information in and wasting critical
But longtime users of Ada say Sun Microsystems is just blowing steam.
"Of course they would love to see Java as the next Ada in DOD," said Tucker
Taft, the lead developer of Ada 95. "It's a lot of hype. Ada has everything that Java
has, and the binary code is so similar that we are able to hijack all its strengths
without losing anything."
Chuck Ingall, director of the Ada Joint Program Office, said he believes Java will
creep into DOD systems but won't overpower Ada.
"It's not true that Java will phase out Ada," he said. "Java is Ada 95
schematics with C++ syntax. Ada is safer. It is easier to read and understand."
Lt. Chad Bremmon, a system software requirements engineer for the Pentagon's Single
Agency Manager unit, said Sun officials may be comparing Java unfairly to Ada 83, an old
version of the language.
"They're full of it if they're talking about Ada 95," he said. "They're
just trying to hype" Java.