When picking, be 100 percent positive Java speaks your language

As the rhetoric flies, you may be feeling disgusted enough to dump your coffee into the
keyboard and go back to the days of tin cans and string.

Don't get mad, get educated. Marketers woo government buyers with promises of what
products can do. Decide first what you want to do before you ponder the hype.

You may have noticed that Sun Microsystems Inc., developer of the Java language, is in
the throes of a marketing campaign to promote "100 percent pure" Java. Sun
argues that all Java applets should be written to run on any computer that supports the
Java environment.

That's fine as far as it goes, but the fact is that Java doesn't support all the
functions of a typical operating system.

As programmers develop applets for intranets, they sometimes need to squeeze in special
functions such as linking to objects in a database. Or they may be tempted to speed up
functions by making applets that run only on specific operating systems.

This takes applets out of the realm of pure Java-not necessarily a bad thing. Sun's
objection is fueled by Microsoft Corp.'s introduction of J/Direct technology for Java
applications that use Microsoft's Win32 application programming interfaces.

Microsoft's Virtual Machine lets programmers create Java applets that integrate
Microsoft ActiveX functions.

And Microsoft isn't the only one straying from the path of true Javaness. Apple
Computer Inc. has stated that Rhapsody, the next version of its Macintosh OS, also will
make native connections between Java and underlying operating system interfaces.

Sun claims that purity is a worthwhile goal for Java programming. But that's true only
in certain circumstances.

If you want to create a Java applet for a World Wide Web site that's visited by many
people who have many different computers, go the pure Java route. With properly configured
browsers, all of them can use your applet.

But if you're developing applications for a government intranet for which most workers
have similarly configured systems, it's reasonable to try any trick in the book to get
better response and function. Purity is strictly a virtue in the mind of the beholder.

A similar war is raging over the latest crop of network computers. There are three
camps. The biggest is all those users who think the idea of NCs replacing the ubiquitous
desktop PC is not only silly but disempowering.

The second camp includes Oracle Corp. chairman Larry Ellison and others who support
anything that challenges Microsoft's office dominance.

This camp wants to see centrally managed NCs that roughly conform to reference profiles
agreed upon by IBM Corp., Netscape Communications Corp., Oracle, Apple and Sun.

The third camp consists of Microsoft and Intel. They're in the game to make sure they
don't miss a big trend.

Their model is the Network PC, which will run most Windows applications as well as Java
and other things.

The promise of the NC is that it's bare-bones and relatively cheap to buy and
maintain-perfect for expanding intranets. Intel Corp.'s LANDesk Configuration Manager can
even remotely format and configure an NC's blank hard drive, assuming the user is allowed
to have one. Multiple standard PC configurations can be defined and deployed from a
central server.

Intel describes these as managed PCs. But as far as end users are concerned, the battle
isn't between this corporate vision and emerging standards. The real battle is over
control of the hard drive. Would you want to give yours up?

A centrally managed system forces users to conform to procedures, whims and even
directory structures of the central IT department.

People have had a taste of configuring their own systems now, and it will be tough to
get them to give that up.

The most likely users of NCs and NetPCs are personnel offices and other government
units that maintain nearly all their records in a central location.

If maintenance is a monumental issue on your network, and you already keep most records
and applications on a central server, then you should investigate NCs.

If you're distributed and successfully using office applications on many PCs, why

Network computers aren't going to take over the world anytime soon, and even if they
do, it's unclear whether the Oracle or the Windows-Intel model will dominate.

Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
GCN's parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.

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