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Lucent wants to burn Java with Inferno

Lucent took the wraps off a technology it hopes will not only compete with but catapult ahead of the Java programming language.

Lucent Technologies today took the wraps off a technology it hopes will not only compete with but catapult ahead of Sun Microsystems1s Java programming language.

The AT&T spin-off officially announced its plans for Inferno, a software development environment for building network applications and services, including email, video games, and video on demand.

Lucent officials said that Inferno is much broader in its ambitions than Java and that Inferno applications will not be limited to running over the Internet. The company sees Inferno being offered in a wide range of devices and services, including PCs, Net terminals, handheld devices, telephones, and set-top boxes. The company did not announce any Inferno licensees.

Lucent officials attempted to downplay Inferno's competition with Java, stating that two technologies will be compatible, not competitive.

But like Java and Microsoft's ActiveX, the technologies appear to be on a collision course nonetheless. At Internet World in San Jose, California, last week, Sun took steps to make Java a fundamental part of existing operating systems rather than simply a browser technology. Sun is also developing a Java-based OS for inexpensive network devices, as well as a set of microprocessors optimized for Java.

This first version of Inferno includes a programming language called Limbo, communications protocols called Styx, network application programming interfaces (APIs), and a full-fledged operating system that can run on Intel, MIPS, and ARM processors. Inferno applications can also be run on top of existing operating systems, such as Windows NT, Windows 95, and Unix, through a "virtual machine" called Dis.

Although Lucent brings considerable technical expertise to the table--including the minds that created Unix, C, and C++--its Bell Labs research wing has a poor history of marketing its inventions, a factor that could hamper Inferno's acceptance in the marketplace. But Lucent officials said this history will not repeat itself.

"In the past, we all know Bell Labs software innovations languished in the labs," said Dan Stanzione, president of Bell Labs. "That will not happen with Inferno. To license inferno, we're creating a dedicated business unit comprised of 20 people. This unit will bring the same skunk-works mentality that the research team brought to its creation."

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