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IBM adds speed to Java machine

Big Blue peps up the Java world today with a free virtual machine for Windows, a technology the company says injects some much-needed speed into Java technology.

IBM pepped up the Java world today with a free virtual machine for Windows, a technology the company says injects some much-needed speed into Java technology.

The product, while free, is being released as part of IBM's effort to boost e-commerce, a market on which IBM has staked much of it product line, said Jason Woodard of IBM's Java technical marketing program. The virtual machine is aimed at the server market, where IBM as well as Java creator Sun Microsystems believe Java will help ease the task of setting up sophisticated online services.

"Our objective is to provide a consistent environment for building e-business applications," Woodard said. "We're not in the business to make money off Java virtual machines."

A virtual machine is the layer of software that lets a program written in the Java language run on many different computer systems--a critical component of the "write once, run anywhere" Java mantra. However, that intermediate layer often saps a lot of computer resources, and several companies are at work addressing the issue.

Sun is one such company. Its Hotspot virtual machine enhancement is due to arrive the last week of April, said Gina Centoni, Sun's director of product marketing for the Java platform.

"It's nice they've incorporated Java on the Microsoft platform. It's been kind of an embarrassment that the best, fastest JVM [Java virtual machine] out there has been from Microsoft," said Tim Sloane, an analyst at Aberdeen Group.

Sun will charge for HotSpot, whereas IBM's Java virtual machine is downloadable for free.

The Microsoft Windows/Intel version of HotSpot will arrive this month.

HotSpot and the IBM JVM are aimed at the same market: the middle layer between clients trying to interact with business' servers. In that model, Java programs handle tasks such as taking orders, obtaining credit card payment authorization, or checking information from a company's inventory database. Writing that "business logic" software in Java means--at least theoretically--that it can be used on any Java-enabled server.

IBM's new Windows JVM is useful for smaller-scale servers or for testing out Java programs later to be put on heavier-duty systems, Woodard said.

"Many of our customers have come to the conclusion that Windows NT is not scalable enough for their needs," but it's still useful for developers who prefer to write the software on a Windows environment before porting it over to something else, he said.

The JVM also could be useful in applications where jobs are parceled out to multiple Windows NT servers operating side-by-side, Sloane said.

Though there are "clean-room" JVM clones available, IBM's JVM is based on code licensed from Sun and improved by IBM, Woodard said. The version released today is based on the previous edition of Java, 1.1.7B, but a Java 2-compliant version will be released this year, he said.

The new JVM will ship with IBM Java-related products such as WebSphere, which lets users design and set up Web sites, Woodard said.

IBM also is working on a Linux port of WebSphere, which currently uses the Blackdown Java/Linux technology. IBM is still evaluating whether to bring its own JVM technology to Linux, he said.

IBM also has free virtual machines for its own operating systems, including OS/2, AIX, OS/400, OS/390, and even the operating system for the IBM 4690 cash register, he said.