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Intel, SGI bail on Java multimedia

Sun Microsystems loses its two most valuable partners in developing a common framework for adding multimedia to Java applications.

Sun Microsystems has lost its two most valuable partners in its effort to develop a common framework for adding multimedia to Java applications.

After collaborating with Sun on a specification called Java Media Framework, or JMF, both Intel and Silicon Graphics have quietly backed away from the project.

Details about the discontinuation, which happened over the past year, are hard to come by. In a press release dated July 13, Intel said it was dropping JMedia Player, its implementation of JMF, "due to changing Java market conditions."

SGI announced it was dropping its JMF implementation, known as Cosmo Motion, in a November 1997, posting by an SGI employee on a JMF message board. Microsoft's aggressive Java strategy "Silicon Graphics has decided to focus its engineering efforts on core Java technologies," Mark Davoren wrote. "As a result, we are indefinitely delaying the release of Java Media Framework 1.0 for IRIX at this time," he said, referring to SGI's 64-bit Unix-based server operating system.

Representatives from both companies declined to elaborate. Recognizing the growing importance of "streaming media," or technology for receiving broadcasts over the Net, Sun teamed up with SGI and Intel to agree on a common specification for adding audio, video, and animation to Java applications. According to Rick Ross, president and founder of the JavaLobby, developers have come to view the resulting JMF as an essential way of implementing multimedia into the applications they are building.

"This is not a minor thing," Ross said in an interview. "JMF is Java's access to streaming media."

Sun's product manager for Java media technologies, Andrew Shikiar, said that despite the departure, JMF remains on track. He added Sun's JMF 1.0, which was released in March, has gained the attention of several developers and independent software vendors."

"While we do regret that fact that Intel has ceased development, we definitely feel that JMF 1.0 is an excellent solution. We've been redoubling our efforts and you can look forward to good news coming out soon." He said a 2.0 version of JMF is "around the corner."

Ross agrees that the departure by Intel and SGI is by no means fatal to Sun's attempt to set a standard for Java media, but he does see it as a step backward.

"When the big players move out of this space, it definitely slows the pace of advancement," he said. "We can still work with the technology, but now we're more vulnerable because where we formerly had multiple suppliers of the technology, we now have only one."

What's more, Ross said, Intel's JMedia Player had several advantages going for it that other implementations did not. Chief among them was speed.

"I do regret that Intel has abandoned their Java-based effort in this space," Ross said, lamenting that the change happened "suddenly and without explanation."

The moves by Intel and SGI come as Sun battles Microsoft over whose version of Java will eventually reign. According to evidence in Sun's possession, Microsoft considered Intel's Java multimedia work as "the area of most contention" between the two partners and explored ways of talking the chipmaker into dropping the efforts

(Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

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