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HP toes Java line in large systems

Hewlett-Packard announces a strategy for its big computers that adheres closely to the rules from Sun's JavaSoft unit.

Playing another angle on Java, Hewlett-Packard (HPW) today announced a strategy for its big computers that adheres closely to the party line from rival Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) JavaSoft unit.

HP is rolling out a "Java tuning center" to optimize Java applications for its Unix-based hardware and a native compiler for its HP-UX Unix operating system, also designed to make Java applications run faster on HP machines.

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Java chaos also said its enterprise Java strategy will emphasize server-side software applications, particularly for electronic commerce, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management, and operating resource management (ORM), because they require immediate updates of the same information in multiple applications. HP believes Java is particularly useful for those updates.

But HP admits its enterprise Java strategy diverges sharply from what it is doing with Java for small devices--printers, credit card readers, and consumer appliances. Earlier today, HP said it is creating its own Java Virtual Machine to run on small devices and embedded operating systems instead of licensing Sun's PersonalJava.

"This is not by accident," said Bill Blundon, analyst at Extraprise Group. "[HP's] strategy is to be the Switzerland in the Java wars."

HP has long played in both Unix and Windows NT markets, for example--another battleground in the computer industry.

"Customers are pulling them in both directions," Blundon added. "They want to take the best in both camps. HP has a lot to offer in terms of being a deciding vote to say which vendor is best. It's a great place to be."

"Essentially HP has a two-pronged approach for delivering Java," said Sara Jacobsen, Java program manager for HP's enterprise operations. "Our enterprise strategy is down to earth, not flashy or controversial.

"The two approaches we are seeing are to address the needs of two separate markets," she added. "The needs of my market are different from the needs of [HP embedded systems]. We are consistent in going after what customers' requirements are."

The split reflects two beliefs at HP: For enterprises with multiple operating systems, Java's cross-platform benefits are great but users can gain from tuning specific applications to run best on HP's hardware. For small devices, Sun is charging too much for PersonalJava licenses and controlling the specification too much.

"On the enterprise side, our focus is to concentrate on server and computer infrastructure, where we can see Java has developed emerging business value. We want to deliver Java to markets where it has business virtue, not for its own sake," Jacobsen said.

HP stresses that its enterprise strategy is to be fully compatible with JavaSoft while creating the native compiler so Java-based applications will run faster on HP hardware. Customers with heavily HP installations are more likely to use the HP-UX native compiler and the new Java tuning center, the company said.

Most customers and software developers writing in Java for HP machines will want to use the Java Virtual Machine, not the native compiler, because it lets the software run on other platforms.

"With all this, we want to maintain 100 percent compatibility with the Java specification, not because we are moralists but because that's what customers expect from us," Jacobsen noted, hinting that if market demand shifts, HP might become less Java pure. "As long as that is required by the market, that is the alignment we will maintain."

Jacobsen's comments also were designed to lay out a road map for how HP will use Java in its enterprise strategy.

"Performance [speed] of Java is an industry-wide problem," she said. "For businesses to take advantage of Java for mission-critical applications, we're going to need something faster than what JavaSoft can deliver in the near term."

Jacobsen said that although HP may be the first hardware vendor to announce a native Java compiler for its machines, she believes other computer hardware companies are working on similar plans.

Today's enterprise Java pronouncements follow a series of recent Java-related moves by HP in the market for large computing systems. Last month, HP said it intends to deliver Java on Merced, the next-generation, 64-bit chip it is codeveloping with Intel, when the first systems are delivered next year. HP also plans to help developers test Java-based applications for IA-64, as it calls Merced.

In other recent Java announcements, HP has said it will integrate Open Group?s TurboJ product for high-performance Java environments, add Java Internet developers to its program for Merced software developers, deliver a Merced "software transition kit" customers and developers, and license a Java compiler technology from Tower.