IBM officials confirmed that the company will participate in Sun's new initiative, which is consistent with its strategy to use Java in several of its software offerings, including OS/2 and Notes. Microsoft officials would not comment, but Sun officials confirmed that the Redmond, Washington, software giant is involved. Novell last month already unveiled plans to make Java part of its NetWare operating system.
Until now, Microsoft's publicly stated plan was to support Java in the next version of its Internet Explorer browser and then bundle the browser into Windows 95. In contrast, a Java engine embedded directly into Windows will allow a broad range of applications, including word processors, spreadsheets, and databases, to run Java applets, which are accessible over the Internet.
Microsoft has not determined when the Java-savvy version of Windows will be available, but it considers the marriage of the two technologies a priority, according to sources. The decision may conclude Microsoft's apparent wavering between supporting Java and promoting its own ActiveX controls architecture for small, single-purpose applications like applets. The company has already gone from an apparent reluctance to even sign a licensing agreement last December to an announcement in March that the company would develop its own Java development tools to the decision to embed Java in its crown jewel: Windows.
The Microsoft decision is a tacit acknowledgement of Java's role as a de facto Internet standard. Netscape Communications' Navigator 2.0 is currently the only commercially available application that supports Java. While the language's popularity is due in large part to the phenomenal popularity of Navigator, Microsoft hopes it can steal the show from its browser rival by adding native support for Internet technologies, including TCP/IP and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), to its operating system.
Sun, for its part, wants to see Java as ubiquitous as Windows itself. The new focus on supporting Java in the OS is expected to be especially encouraging to the growing community of Java developers, who will be able to create applications that run outside of Web browsers.
"It makes a lot of sense. This way you don't have to have a separate run time for every application," said Kim Polese, former product manager for Java at Sun and co-founder of a start-up company that develops Java applications. "Web browsers are one platform for [Java] applications, but they're not the only one. They are not even the ideal platform for applications because they are text-centric."
IBM also plans to make Java a feature on all of its operating systems, including OS/2, AIX, MVS, and OS/400, as well as its groupware platform, Lotus Notes. "I have never thought of Java as a browser technology," said John Patrick, vice president of Internet Technology at IBM. "The browser has captured the world's imagination because it's so visible. The potential of Java extends beyond that. [Java] is not the panacea to all of the problems of Internet, but it is a very important technology for extending network computing."
With Java's presence ever-expanding, a new Netscape vs. Microsoft rivalry may ensue over Java performance.
This week, Netscape announced that Navigator will get a Java performance boost through the addition of Borland International's just-in-time Java compiler, a second-generation Java engine that will accelerate the speed of applets five- to ten-fold. Microsoft will fire back with its own just-in-time Java compiler, to be bundled initially in Internet Explorer 3.0 this summer and eventually directly into Windows, according to sources close to the company.
IBM also plans to offer its own just-in-time compiler, Patrick said.
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