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"Dramatic" Java rise reported

Adoption of the language-cum-development in businesses spikes in the past calendar quarter, but it still has a way to go, according to IDC and users.

Adoption of Java technology in businesses has made recent "dramatic" strides, but the mainstream has not yet embraced it, according to a market research firm, and users maintain it can be slow and cumbersome.

In its quarterly survey of technology deployment, International Data Corporation said today that Java plans are under way in more than 45 percent of the approximately 800 North American companies it surveyed in the fourth quarter of 1997, up from 35 percent in the third quarter.

"Adoption" in IDC's terms can mean anything from actual deployment of Java applications to early evaluation of the technology. Given that, most of the jump came from companies in the evaluation and planning stages, which IDC attributed to the constant marketing and training efforts by Sun Microsystems and high-profile press coverage of Java, including a first-round victory for Sun in its attempt to have Java declared an international standard.

Sixty-six percent of large companies (more than 1,000 employees) surveyed were "Java adopters," while more than 40 percent of small to medium-sized businesses fell into that category. Most of the Java growth in the small business sector was due to evaluation and planning, not actual implementation, although the overall growth in that sector was the highest, the survey stated.

Bandwidth problems and the elusive promise of running smoothly on all platforms remain a bugbear to some users, including an information technology manager at a large university IT department.

"First, our Java [application] worked great, but then we started to see differences across different browser versions and platforms," said Michael Gilbert, special projects analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Office of Information Technologies. To help with the installation of Ethernet cabling across the campus, Gilbert's team created a Java application that let the project staff track all the client installation data from any browser at any time.

Sometimes the interface was different, sometimes data was missing, and it became too unpredictable to ensure that everyone was getting the right information, noted Gilbert. In addition, accessing the big application from a remote dial-up connection was "a time sink and a half," he said.

Meanwhile, large companies are farther along in actually putting Java to work, which is good news for longer-term forecasts: "As long as Java reaches the Fortune 1,000 and Global 2,000 mainstream, Java should eventually spill over into smaller and medium-sized companies through the supply chain leverage exercised by large companies."

One small Web developer is bucking that trend by moving its Java work to the server.

"Our original version was a [client-side] applet, and it was a painful experience trying to make that work," said Kent Johnson, chief technology officer of WebCentric, whose "Bottom Dollar" shopping agent helps surfers find low prices on the Net.

The Bottom Dollar software, which originally made its price comparisons from the end user's computer, now runs entirely on a server. The end user doesn't need to have Java installed.

Java on the server works well because it handles multiple "threads," or strings of information from various sources, according to Johnson. The multithreading allows the Bottom Dollar agent to send several queries at once to retailers, gather results simultaneously, and present them to the user.

The move to server-side Java means investing more in hardware and networking infrastructure for Johnson, but he says his business model, even for a company with three full-time employees, allows for it. Johnson said he expects to be profitable "in the next few months."

Still, the relatively low percentage of businesses that either use Java regularly--less than 5 percent--or have deployed it widely--about 10 percent--show that Sun has several years of pressure to apply before the mainstream truly embraces Java, according to the survey's authors.

Sun executives were pleased by the survey, saying that it confirmed their expectations. The company also acknowledged that the coming year will be crucial to get enterprise developers to put Java into play.

"The largest thing is to convince companies [that are evaluating Java] that this isn't just marketing hype," said Eileen Tso, JavaSoft market development manager.