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Apple plugs QuickTime for Java

The software brings important new capabilities to Java, even as its ability to effectively deliver multimedia content is being questioned.

Apple Computer (AAPL) today announced a version of its popular QuickTime multimedia software for the Java platform, bringing important new capabilities to Java at a time when its ability to effectively deliver multimedia content is being questioned.

Apple says that QuickTime for Java will allow developers to write Java programs that use QuickTime content and capabilities--capabilities that have been absent or lacking from the Java language.

QuickTime 3.0 will also function as a container for delivering high-quality video and audio to Java platforms.

In a way, QuickTime's authoring platform already partially fulfills Java's promise of "write once, deploy (almost) everywhere." Developers can use it to deliver graphics, sound, video, text, music, and 3D graphics to Macintosh and Windows-based computers. Having such capabilities on the Java platform is critical to Java's success as a programming language.

According to Apple, QuickTime for Java is not rewritten in the Java language itself and does require QuickTime software to be installed. By doing this, Apple claims that it is easier to develop multimedia content without degrading performance. However, Unix-based computers will not be able to run Java programs with the QuickTime software.

Java's own media architecture, called the Java Media Framework, can't reliably deliver multimedia content to different platforms, Apple personnel say. "Something as fundamental as playing a [sound file] from a Java application...depends on a vendor's implementation of the Media Framework. QuickTime provides a consistent way of dealing with these file formats," says Peter Hoddie, senior QuickTime architect.

While QuickTime may provide Java programs some needed capabilities, some analysts question if Java's overall performance will be good enough to attract developers who need to deploy video or audio content.

"It is important in multimedia to know the target machine [to offer the best performance]," said John Latta, president of Fourth Wave, a market research firm specializing in graphics and multimedia developments.

In general, enabling Java to run well on any machine is not easy since the software takes instructions from a program and then, through the use of a "virtual machine," commands the PC's operating system to perform certain tasks. This adds a layer of additional operations that can slow system performance.

Sun hopes to entice developers to use Java by supplying its own multimedia authoring tools and APIs, but the presence of the more ubiquitous QuickTime could negate those tools since Sun's efforts are still in their infancy.

Apple says a developer release of the software is now available at a special Web site.