INTERNAUT

INTERNAUT

Shawn P. McCarthy

Java's rising star bucks conventional federal expectations

Anyone interested in the Internet's future has at least a passing interest in the Java language. Though not the be-all and end-all of Net development, as we once were told, Java continues to pop up in fascinating new applications. And the ongoing soap opera between Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. over control of the standard deserves a made-for-TV movie.

The government has no large Java contingent, but I do hear from many readers who work in Unix and rely on Java for writing new applications. For them, here is what's been brewing at the recent JavaOne conference and among corporate wheelers and dealers.

Sun has worked hard to get Java into handheld computers from leading makers such as 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. That has required restructuring parts of the standard, which raised eyebrows among Java licensees. Java is touted as an open standard with a full community process for changes and enhancements. The fact that Sun could make unilateral changes so quickly is troubling.

A cup in the hand

Sun previously positioned Java as not only a programming language but also a full operating environment capable of competing with Microsoft Windows. I don't believe it will ever compete at the operating system level, but it has become a force on specialized servers, and now it seems to have a future on handhelds.

There's one not-so-small problem: Java is a memory pig. Sun has made deals with Motorola Inc. and Sharp Electronics Corp. to evolve future handheld Java technologies. But how many handhelds have enough RAM to take advantage of Java?

The catalyst for handheld Java might come instead from Hewlett-Packard's ChaiVM, a Java virtual machine for embedded systems. A new tool called ChaiFreezeDry in the ChaiVM software developer's kit optimizes Java code, cutting the memory footprint by up to half for personal digital assistants, cellular phones and other devices. Visit www.chai.hp.com/. ChaiVM could be useful in field applications for soldiers, government inspectors and geographic information system users.

Jini, Sun's spontaneous Java networking software, lets devices notify a network that they are present and can handle certain functions. Announced in January, the draft Jini 1.1 claims to provide better security and standardization of some services. Visit www.sun.com/jini/. Unlike Java, Jini is not open, it's strictly a Sun product. But if Sun's handheld strategy takes off, Jini or something like it will become necessary.

In many ways, refocusing Java for portable devices echoes Sun's and Oracle Corp.'s earlier push for the network computer. Handhelds, once they have a little more horsepower, could indeed turn into the network computers once envisioned. Imagine connecting to the Internet whenever and wherever you want through a wireless device, and accessing your hard drive, mail and a Web browser. If that happens, and everyone has a tiny fold-out keyboard for occasional typing, who needs Windows?

Speaking of Microsoft, will Kaffe give Java developers grounds for bitterness? Transvirtual Technologies Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., a start-up funded by Microsoft, has a controversial new product called Kaffe that creates Java programs for Windows and exploits the Java variations introduced by Microsoft. Visit www.transvirtual.com/.

Gates' brew

All this deal-making puts Microsoft in the position of having a good Java development product for either market, whether it manages to leverage its own Java extensions or not.

Even if Microsoft can't control the Java standard, it probably will exert control over the Java development market. Most people who develop in Basic and C++ already use Microsoft tools. Once developers are hooked into a particular toolset, Microsoft can easily pour its own extensions back into the mix. Java purists might have to accept Microsoft extensions whether they like it or not.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.''

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