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Sun, IBM to combine on Java software

The duo will provide details on a Java-based operating system for corporate network computers.

IBM and Sun Microsystems tomorrow will detail a Java-based operating system for corporate network computers, software that the two companies hope will spark interest in their NC plans.

Called JavaOS for Business, the new operating system will be codeveloped and comarketed by the two companies and released around midyear, sources close to IBM and Sun said. Janpieter Scheerder, president of SunSoft, and Mike Lawrie, general manager of IBM's network computing software division, will outline the plans at a press conference tomorrow.

Initially, IBM plans to offer the operating system on its Network Station NC in early 1999. Sun, meanwhile, will migrate JavaStation users from its Java OS to the new JavaOS for Business over the next year.

Oracle, Informix, Netscape Communications, and Toshiba are expected to chime in with words of encouragement and generalized product support.

Tomorrow's announcement, expected by analysts, will follow last week's debut of a consumer version of the Java OS. Last week at the JavaOne developers conference Sun introduced Java OS for Consumers, an operating system for such things as cell phones and karaoke machines. Sun executives also said the company was licensing a Java OS for corporate makers of network computers following the long-awaited release of the JavaStation.

JavaOS for Consumers is a hybrid of PersonalJava, a slimmed-down version of the system that runs on desktop machines, and Chorus, a real-time system that Sun purchased last year.

Sun and IBM have been the lead advocates for using network computers in corporations, a movement that has stalled somewhat as PCs have become more manageable and cheaper over the past two years. NCs were originally designed to lower the cost of corporate computing.

The machines were also designed to be a platform for bringing Java programs into businesses, something that has failed to happen so far. Companies that make NCs say they are seeing more demand for low-end computers that use existing technologies because few enterprise-wide Java applications exist.

Emblematic of this trend is Allstate's purchase of about 45,000 IBM Network Stations. The largest NC deal to date involves machines that run programs based around Windows NT and other platforms but not Java, according to an IBM spokesperson.

Sun and IBM already market network computers that take advantage of Java. Sun's JavaStation, which became commercially available for the first time last week, uses the Java OS from Sun. IBM's Network Station uses the Java Virtual Machine 1.1.2 running on top of a Unix kernel OS.

The two companies have been cooperating on developing a Java OS for some time, said Lorraine Hariton, senior vice president of marketing at Network Computing Devices, which makes the IBM Network Station. It is one of the many Java development efforts at both companies.

"Sun has a lot of work in the Java space. IBM has had a lot of developers on Java," she said. "One of the collaborative efforts is the Java OS."