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Sun unveils embedded server

The server software can sit on top of embedded operating systems, including rival Microsoft's Windows CE.

Everyone's looking for a new wrinkle to add to the market for software that runs in embedded settings.

Sun Microsystems this week unveiled its long-rumored Java Embedded Server, a piece of server software that can sit on top of a slew of embedded operating systems from the likes of Wind River Systems, Lucent Technologies, and even Microsoft's Windows CE.

Sun's move is the latest sign that software companies, even those that do not traditionally cater to the embedded market, are viewing the opportunity as too great to pass up. Embedded operating systems can run in machines on a factory floor, in a point-of-sale setting, or within the emerging slew of handheld devices that are flooding the market, such as personal digital assistants or multifunction cellular phones. Networking equipment has also been mentioned as a potential target by some in the industry.

What companies such as Sun and Microsoft--which will formally roll out its plans for an embedded version of its Windows NT operating system soon--are betting on is that organizations will want to achieve simplicity by installing a set of common software across a variety of machines, whether they are server systems, PCs, or embedded devices.

In Sun's case, the new Embedded Server functions as the application development platform for programmers writing applications on top of these embedded operating system flavors. It essentially acts as an "enabler," according to Sharada Achanta, group marketing manafer for Java enterprise products at Sun, allowing developers to tie traditional applications to new sets of functions residing on far-flung devices.

Sun believes its server software can be used as a software deployment and application upgrade service, allowing far-flung network devices running certain applications to be refreshed with new code. The company boasts that its new server could even provide a late-night monitoring service for gas pumps or banking ATMs located in remote settings.

The new Java Embedded Server runs on any software that supports the Java Virtual Machine, part of the Java Development Kit, and the consumer-oriented PersonalJava package. As well as embedded settings, the new server can run on top of Sun's own Solaris brand of Unix, the Windows NT server operating system, and others. It is also compatible with Sun's recently announced Jini, a Java-based software technology. It is available now with prices starting at $3,500.