NEW YORK--Sun Microsystems (SUNW) CEO Scott McNealy led a merry band of Java devotees to the Big Apple to show that the Java programming language will run on everything from upcoming Web phones to mainframe computers.
The thrust of the newly commissioned Java Internet Business Expo show is to provide a venue for corporate network administrators to learn more about how Java-based software programs can work within their business computing environments. McNealy, during a morning keynote that opened the week-long exposition, stressed that the booming language--which promises "write once, run anywhere" functionality--does more than give programmers a new means to brighten Web pages.
Sun CEO Scott McNealy at the Java Internet Business Expo (Photo: AP)
"It's actually moved to a tool that helps companies get their job done," McNealy told the crowd. "The momentum is unstoppable."
As part of the day's events, Sun rolled out three third parties who will soon introduce Web-based telephones that will use Java. The company also announced, in conjunction with Netscape Communications and IBM, the creation of a Java Porting and Tuning Center so that future versions of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) can roll out for multiple platforms simultaneously. The JVM is a small base operating system that allows Java applications to run.
If the show was expected to stress Java's role in business environments, however, these initial forays by Sun and its partners left some room for improvement. Java may be ready for enterprise networks, but there was some question as to how upcoming releases of nifty Web-based telephones from the likes of Samsung, Northern Telecom, and Alcatel related to this push.
Regardless, Sun officials continued to stress the portability of the language, and its ability to run on everything from small devices such as phones to large server computers using a network computer (NC) model. The Web phones use a Java specification called P-Java, or Personal Java.
Company officials stressed that Web phones are an example of the power of Java, creating tools that can help people and companies communicate. "It's the innovation we must open," said Ian Sugarbroad, vice president of business development at Northern Telecom.
A software reference design for low-end Java appliances also took center stage at the show, perhaps best exemplified by Diba, a consumer-device company and competitor to WebTV Networks recently acquired by Sun, which plans a variety of small devices that take advantage of Java.
Java has indeed created an industry unto itself. A recent Forrester Research study of IT shops concluded that more than half of the corporations surveyed will implement a Java strategy before the end of this year. By 1999, more than 90 percent are expected to use Java within their networks, and nearly 70 percent are expected to use the language to roll out production applications.
"The basic message is it's time to get going," McNealy said to the audience dominated by IT professionals.
Sun has positioned the language as a potential Microsoft beater, trumpeting a thin-client model that relies on large servers to store the "state" or configuration of the desktop. The king of software for PCs has positioned Java as another programming language that Windows-based developers can use to write better programs for that platform. A recent push from Sun and others to create a "100 percent pure Java" brand for applications that adhere to the "run anywhere" mantra has not been adopted by the Redmondians, leading Sun and other pure Java adherents, such as Netscape, Oracle, and Novell, to criticize the software monolith.
"[Microsoft] has decided we are a problem," McNealy said. "I think we're flattered, but I'm not sure."
"Cross platform, although it is a great moniker like world peace, has its tradeoffs," replied Tod Nielsen, Microsoft's vice president of developer relations.
"Our whole pitch [to developers] is pragmatism vs. purity. Our interest is in providing services that deliver on our developers' and customers' needs," added Nielsen. He also said that few developers really want to rewrite their programs from scratch, to comply with the 100 percent pure Java campaign, and he questioned the real-world practicality of "write once, run anywhere."
Pro-Java forces, on the other hand, seem to be offering the industry surprising cohesion. Netscape will soon roll out a "100 percent pure Java" version of its Navigator browser. (See related story) IBM, Netscape, and Sun will all contribute development dollars to the tuning center, which should alleviate delays in third parties implementing the latest versions of the JVM.
During a post-keynote news conference, McNealy fired off another salvo toward Redmond on the issue of Microsoft's unwillingness to adhere to the "100 percent pure Java" standard. "It's kind of like Kleenex fighting the cure for the common cold," he quipped.