New Java aims to simplify

Sun releases a new version of its Java for desktops that aims to make the software faster, more familiar in appearance, and less daunting for nonprogrammers.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems released a new version of its Java for desktop computers on Friday that aims to make the software faster, more familiar in appearance, and less daunting for nonprogrammers.

Among other changes, the new version 1.4.2 of Java 2 Standard Edition will include buttons, menu bars, and other graphical elements that match the feel of Windows XP or the GNOME interface to Linux. Version 1.4.2 also offers a new control panel, an automatic update feature, and a swifter response when taking actions such as displaying a list of files stored on a hard disk.

The friendlier interface is part of an effort by Java inventor Sun to make Java software that average consumers will recognize and demand. Earlier this month at its JavaOne trade show, Sun announced a multimillion-dollar branding campaign to try to etch the Java logo and value into consumers' minds.

A telling example of Sun's effort to extend the software's appeal beyond computer experts is the fact that the new version no longer prominently displays the most obvious Java action as "console"--a feature a handful of code jockeys may appreciate but few others understand, much less use.

Version 1.4.2, code-named Mantis, also is the first to include full support for Intel's Itanium processor family. Intel released the third-generation Itanium, code-named Madison, on Monday. Earlier, incomplete Itanium support in 1.4.1 meant that programs ran about 20 to 30 times slower than in 1.4.2, Sun said.

At JavaOne, Sun said version 1.4.2 was imminent. Its importance has increased with the announcement that the top two PC makers, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard, will bundle Java on their laptops and desktops. Those deals have taken on added significance for Sun since a court decision last week that overturned a previous requirement that Microsoft include Java with Windows.

Java lets a program run on many types of computers, such as those running Mac OS, Windows or Linux, without having to be changed for each one. That universality could undermine the power of Microsoft, whose Windows operating system is the foundation for most desktop computer software.

Though Java initially was released as a desktop computing software product, its successes to date have been in areas where Microsoft isn't as strong: servers and cell phones.

To tout Java's advantages, Sun established a new Java.com Web site. That Web site doesn't yet have the new version of Java available for quick installation, though it can be downloaded manually, and a Sun representative said the site should be updated soon.

Version 1.4.2 speeds up some operations by taking advantage of special instructions Intel processors can understand, called SSE and SSE2 (streaming single-instruction-multiple-data extension). The new version also includes more than 2,400 bug fixes since 1.4.0, Sun said.

Version 1.5, code-named Tiger, will include further performance improvements, Sun has said. It also will allow the use of "skins," customized user interfaces, and will take less time to start up.