HP's Java clone heads to gadgets

Hewlett-Packard releases a Java clone for small devices, while Sun Microsystems suffers a setback in Java cell phones.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sun Microsystems is facing reinvigorated competition from Hewlett-Packard, which Monday followed Sun's lead by introducing a clone of Java for gadgets.

HP is Sun's friend and foe when it comes to Java software. Despite HP's continued refusal to agree to Sun's Java licensing terms for gadgets, HP's own efforts are nonetheless helping Sun succeed in its vision to spread Java into handheld computers, cell phones, e-mail pagers, car computers and other devices.

On Monday, HP unveiled MicrochaiVM, its Java clone designed for gadgets. HP also announced Monday that Qualcomm has endorsed MicrochaiVM as its new cell phone software standard, boosting Java but sidestepping Sun.

Meanwhile, Sun's efforts to spread Java in a variety of gadgets has hit a pothole: Last week, Japanese cell phone company NTT DoCoMo recalled thousands of Java-enabled cell phones that debuted in January, according to media reports.

Early reports of the cell phone problem, which affected p503i I-mode phones built by Matsushita, fingered Java as the problem. But Sun spokesman Mike Schuster said Monday that NTT DoCoMo has told Sun the problem is unrelated to Java.

Matsushita spokesman Akira Kadota said the cell phones would turn off if a person visited certain Web pages. Although voice communications weren't affected, the problem erased information such as phone numbers stored in the phone's memory.

Matsushita's Communication Industry subsidiary is working with NTT DoCoMo to fix the problem, Kadota said.

Kadota would not say whether the problem was related to Java, referring questions to NTT DoCoMo.

NTT DoCoMo could not be reached for comment.

Even if Java is not to blame, the problem is a significant hurdle to the launch of Java cell phones. I-mode, used by nearly 19 million subscribers, is Sun's premier partner in spreading Java to cell phones.

The importance of the I-mode partnership has been increased with NTT DoCoMo's recent deals to spread I-mode to the United States and Europe.

Sun asserts that using Java will make it easier for companies that sell cell phone service to offer sophisticated games and e-commerce features.

Java lets programs run on numerous types of devices without having to be rewritten to adjust for differences among them. Java is common in desktops and servers. However, it's been hard for companies to shoehorn the technology into small devices with little memory, scrawny CPUs and tight cost constraints.

MicrochaiVM requires less memory than KVM, Sun's competing Java for gadgets, said Dino Brusco, director of marketing for HP's embedded software group. And using the company's Chaifreezedry technology, programs require less memory to run as well.

HP is one of the biggest backers of the J Consortium, an effort to set Java standards without submitting them to Sun's licensing terms. However, the latest version of Chai shows that Sun's competing organization, the Java Community Process (JCP), is in the driver's seat.

Sun's JCP created a version of Java for gadgets called the "connected limited device configuration" (CLDC). HP's MicrochaiVM conforms to this specification, Brusco said.

Although HP is interested in licensing the software test suite that checks for compatibility with Java, the company doesn't want to license Java itself, Brusco said. Under current conditions, HP would have to agree to be a Java licensee before getting access to the test suite.

"We're not a Sun licensee for any of our code," Brusco said. "Eventually, something will have to give."

Sun argues that the JCP is more open to outside companies than most standard-setting processes. Chief Operating Officer Ed Zander has called Java "the most open, standard language and software environment that has hit our industry as long as I've been around."

Motorola leads development on two gadget-oriented Java technologies, one for handheld computers and another for enabling Bluetooth wireless communications services.

Under the deal with Qualcomm, MicrochaiVM is a part of a Qualcomm software standard for its cell phones called "binary runtime environment for wireless" (BREW). BREW also permits running programs written in C and C++ programming languages, but when Java is used, MicrochaiVM will handle running the program, Brusco said.

By the end of 2001, there will be more than 3 million devices shipped that are equipped with Chai software, Brusco said. Most of those are HP's own Laserjet printers and Jornada 500 and 700 handheld computers, but other licensees include NTT Communicationware, Hitachi, Siemens, Thales and Delphi Automotive Systems.

HP and NTT DoCoMo also have a partnership of their own to research fourth-generation cell phone technology. Currently, the third-generation, or "3G," technology still is mostly in the planning stages.