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IBM, Sun boost Java offerings

Big Blue announces software updates designed to make Java easier to use in large corporations' e-commerce efforts while Sun adds new 3D support.

IBM, piggybacking on the hoopla surrounding Sun Microsystems' rollout of the new version of its Java platform, has announced software updates designed to make Java easier to use in large corporations' e-commerce efforts, while Sun added new 3D support to its new Java technology.

IBM said two major software products, WebSphere and VisualAge, will support Enterprise JavaBeans, a technology that makes it easier for large corporations to use reusable Java programs.

Enterprise JavaBeans are reusable Java programs that can run on a variety of server technologies from different computer makers, and IBM touts them as an important part of moving commerce to the Web.

The advanced edition of WebSphere, a program that serves up Web services over intranets or the Internet, can run Enterprise JavaBeans, IBM said. In addition, IBM has added Enterprise JavaBean support to its VisualAge software, so developers can write and deploy Enterprise JavaBeans. The new version of VisualAge includes wizards and other tools that make it easier to write the beans and to make sure they run properly.

Java programs run on "virtual machines," essentially computers made out of software that run on a real computer. Theoretically, writing a virtual machine for a specific computer technology makes all Java software available to that platform.

On another front, Sun unveiled Java 2 yesterday, a new version of the Java language that adds several new features to Java programs, including improved user interface and security options.

One new part of Java 2 is improved support for handling two-dimensional drawing tasks. But Sun announced today a new extension to make Java programs better able to handle drawing three-dimensional images as well.

The 3D application programming interface (API ) standard will provide a standard way for Java programs to incorporate 3D graphics, which Sun says will improve Java programs for analyzing and visualizing data or performing computer-aided design (CAD).

One feature in the Java 3D API is "geometry decompression," which cuts the time a computer takes to download complex 3D models over a network.

The 3D API has been under development at Sun and other companies during the last year, Sun said. One such company, SolidWorks in Concord, Massachusetts, is demonstrating software that uses the Java 3D API.

The 3D API will "dispel the myth that only graphics gurus can write sophisticated 3D applications," Sun said.

Sun has positioned Java as the technology that lets programmers write an application once, then run it on any Java-enabled computer.

Sun also announced today that AmeriServe, a company that provides food service to 37,000 restaurants in the United States, will participate in a pilot program to use Sun JavaStation network computers (NCs) to handle Internet-based ordering and inventory control duties. The technology will be offered to all of AmeriServe's customers, and the company "anticipates that a large percentage of the customers will install JavaStation NCs over the next two years."

Network computers, also known as "thin clients," are stripped-down computers that rely on a network connection to a more powerful central server.

The network computers at AmeriServe will replace the company's current proprietary system.