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Sun rides to rescue DOS

Sun Microsystems wants to rescue DOS PCs from obsolescence through new Java software.

INDIAN WELLS, California--Sun Microsystems (SUNW) wants to rescue DOS PCs from obsolescence through a new suite of Java software.

The software, called "Project Rescue," is an attempt to freshen up the Web access capabilities of 486 PCs based on Microsoft's Disk Operating System using a package of Java technologies, including the JavaOS, Java Virtual Machine, and HotJava Views. The program will be discussed here later today at the Demo 97 Conference by Alan Baratz, the head of Sun's JavaSoft division, according to a company spokeswoman.

As much as 43 percent of PCs are still running DOS, largely in the form of Windows 3.1, Microsoft's graphical user interface that runs on top of DOS. Only recently, however, have the Java capabilities on Windows 3.1 begun to improve through new versions of Netscape Communications' Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers.

Sun thinks that it can make Java work even better on low-end PCs and boost the networking capabilities of the machines at the same time. The company plans to sell a package of its Java technologies that will be installed on top of DOS but will not require Windows 3.1. However, users will need to install JavaOS, which includes TCP/IP and the ability to display graphics. The move to make JavaOS more popular on PCs is something of a departure for Sun, which has pushed the technology primarily as an OS for network computers.

If it succeeds, Sun's plan could begin eroding the predominance of Windows 3.1 on some low-end PCs. But that seems unlikely until software and corporate developers being rewriting their applications in Java. Some developers--among them Corel and Lotus Development--already are, but it will take time for their applications to become as mature as existing Windows 3.1 programs. In the meantime, through HotJava Views, Project Rescue users will have a basic set of applications including email, word processing, and scheduling.

No release date for Project Rescue has been set. A Sun spokeswoman said the availability and pricing of the software will be discussed more in depth in April at Sun's JavaOne developer conference. The company expects to sell Project Rescue through retail channels, she said.