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Sun counts on programmers to push Java

Sun Microsystems sharpens Java as a tool to burst Microsoft's bubble for the future of the Internet.

SAN FRANCISCO--Continuing its rhetoric against Microsoft's ambitious Internet plans, Sun Microsystems on Monday said the needs of a global e-commerce system cannot be met by one company and touted Java as the solution.

The Internet is at another juncture where its future growth must be kept out of Microsoft's exclusive control, Sun President Ed Zander said in his keynote address to about 17,000 Java fans at Sun's JavaOne conference here. Zander also announced a number of advances in pushing Java into non-computer gadgets, including Sony's PlayStation 2 video game console.

While Java has caught on as a standard, comparatively ho-hum element of server software, Zander is trying to keep programmers enthusiastic about Java as a multipronged weapon to keep Microsoft's "evil empire" at bay. "I urge you all to take this as seriously as we did in 1995 and 1996," Zander said. "We must keep the Internet open."

The war is being waged in the domain of "Web services"--the incorporation of the Internet into transactions that have taken place in the past on closed networks of servers. Zander warned that Microsoft technologies such as Active Directory, HailStorm and Passport threaten to become Microsoft-controlled elements of this future Internet landscape.

"It's 1996 all over again," Zander said. "It's time for us to drive Java to the next level. It's not just about making something look good on the Web." It's about tasks such as Web services and supporting cell phones and the servers behind them.

Web services will be built into Java 2 Enterprise Edition--J2EE, the version for servers--two generations down the road when version 1.4 is released, Sun said Monday. "It will be the first full release for integrating all the Web services," said Java General Manager Rich Green. But before that, Sun will release quarterly updates and a "Web services pack" to keep things moving in the right direction.

But Sun is misjudging Microsoft's motives and progress, said Gartner analyst Mark Driver. "They just don't get it. They're looking at the Microsoft of 10 years ago," he said. "They've become very complacent."

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  Sun: Open source leads to innovation
Ed Zander, president, Sun
In Web services, Microsoft has about a year's lead over Sun, Driver said. "They're way behind in coming up with a Web services strategy," he said, though Sun is aggressively pursuing it through the Sun One initiative.

Sun's repeated call for open standards is ironic in light of its own track record with Java. Sun reversed a strategy to make Java an industry standard that would have made Sun one of many companies controlling the software, instead creating the Java Community Process. Under that system, Sun has final say in many important decisions but handed off control over many parts of Java's future.

Microsoft believes this community process has failed. "There is fragmentation occurring in the Java community," said John Montgomery, lead product manager for the Microsoft.Net developer platform. Specifically, J2EE "is missing core functions...for building enterprise applications," so the largest J2EE backers, IBM and BEA Systems, are going their own way, he said.

Likewise, those using Java in gadgets are going their own way instead of following Sun-backed standards such as the Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP). Thus, the basic advantage of Java is undermined: Java programs written for one company's cell phone won't necessarily run on another, Montgomery said.

Sun counters that it let gadget makers such as Nokia and Motorola lead the efforts to define Java 2 Micro Edition, the version for gadgets such as cell phones, handheld computers and TV set-top boxes.

But some presentations at the show indicated that MIDP has some support. Nextel Communications and Motorola, the carrier and phone maker that offer Java phone service in the United States, support MIDP. J-Phone East showed its own MIDP phone Monday during the keynote address--although one that had the company's own technology for accelerating 3D display.

NTT DoCoMo, the leading purveyor of Java-enabled handsets, with 3 million shipped so far, doesn't support MIDP, but that's because MIDP wasn't ready soon enough, said Pat Sueltz, head of Sun's software group.

Elsewhere on the gadget front, Sony Computer Entertainment Chief Technology Officer Shin'ichi Okamoto showed a Sony PlayStation 2 running a Java program to chat over the Internet.

Sony brews partnerships
Sony last month announced partnerships with America Online, RealNetworks and others for delivering Internet content via the game system.

"This morning, we announced the porting of the Java environment to this machine," Okamoto said. The PlayStation's biggest competition comes from Nintendo, and later it also will come from Microsoft with its upcoming Xbox system.

The extent to which the PlayStation will use Java is unclear. Java will be available for the game machine by the end of the year, Sun Chief Researcher John Gage said, but Zander and others at a news conference couldn't say whether Java would be a standard part of the system.

Java may have caught on in some circles, but Sun doesn't have the breathing room for backing new technologies it once did. With continuing financial troubles, some believe Sun will have to cut back.

At a news conference, Zander declined to say how much Sun spends on Java each year, but said the software accounts for "hundreds of millions" of dollars out of its $2 billion research and development budget.

"I look at Java as an investment," he said. It's the software that got Sun the attention of companies such as Visa, NTT DoCoMo and Sony for use in smart credit cards and other gadgets, and those companies now are potential server customers as well, Zander said.