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Java clone adds Microsoft, sidesteps Sun

A small company is helping Microsoft bring its controversial Java extensions to computers that don't run Windows.

A small company is helping Microsoft bring its controversial Java extensions to computers that don't run Windows.

At issue is Microsoft's treatment of Sun's Java technology, an issue that lies at the heart of Sun's Java lawsuit against the software giant. Sun has prosecuted a high-profile case over Microsoft's including proprietary Java extensions in the Windows operating system, claiming they violate the companies' Java licensing agreement while "polluting" the programming language.

That's where Transvirtual comes in. The Microsoft-funded Java cloner will accommodate Microsoft's Java extensions in a new version of its Java duplicate, called Kaffe, according to Transvirtual chief executive Tim Wilkinson. The Java-duplicate software has been available for about three years.

Thus, through an open-source effort, contentious Java programming commands developed by Microsoft will be usable on computers running Linux, Sun Microsystems' Solaris, FreeBSD and NetBSD Unix, SGI's Irix, and many other operating systems.

Transvirtual will demonstrate the new version at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco. Also at the conference, Hewlett-Packard will announce the newest version of its own Java knock-off, called "Chai." (See related story)

"What we're doing is trying to unify Java. We're taking the two warring giants of Java and provide an implementation that will run both of these people's codes," Wilkinson said.

While the Kaffe additions make Microsoft extensions usable on many different computers, they do not make the extensions fit any better into Sun's original specification.

As previously reported, Transvirtual's Kaffe project is one of several "clean room" clones of Java technology that are based on Sun's description of Java but haven't won the inventor's seal of approval. Cloning Java without licensing any technology from Sun frees a company to do what it wants with Java.

The programming language first gained popularity as a way to make Web pages snazzier, and then was adopted as a way to power sophisticated features on server computers. Now the clone battle centers on the use of Java in "embedded" systems, limited-function devices such as cell phones or factory floor robots.

Transvirtual approached Microsoft in early 1999 about the possibility of adding the support for the software giant's extensions, Wilkinson said.

Other examples of clean room Java technology include Hewlett-Packard's Chai, Tower Technologies' JTower (for server uses of Java), NewMonics software aimed at the embedded space, the Japhar virtual machine, and Netscape's ElectricalFire Java technology.

HP and Transvirtual both are members of the J Consortium, which has been pursuing its own agenda for beefing up Java for embedded devices.

Sun hasn't taken Transvirtual or any of several other clean-room Java developers to court, and indeed began allowing for clean-room versions of Java in December, though the company still wants companies to license Java. A tentative ruling by U.S. District Judge Ronald White gives an even greener light to Java cloning efforts.

Transvirtual's Microsoft extensions allow Java programs to use two Microsoft extensions, "delegate" and "JDirect," which allow Java programs to invoke non-Java software, Wilkinson said. Sun's Java has a similar function to JDirect called Java Native Interface.

Transvirtual also is working on adding the ability to use Microsoft's "COM" technology, a way to use pre-written chunks of software that currently is only used on Windows machines.

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