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Java update still in the shop

Developers looking for performance-boosting features in Sun's upcoming refresh of its Java Development Kit 1.2 will be left wanting.

Developers looking for Java performance-boosting features in Sun Microsystems' upcoming refresh of its Java Development Kit will be left wanting.

Sun says the version 1.2 of the kit, which it describes as a major update of the software, won't make a planned summer shipment deadline and is now expected to debut in September.

Also, a feature-complete final beta release of the JDK, originally expected last Friday, will be delayed for several weeks, said a Sun spokesman.

"We've decided to focus on tuning libraries and making the release more stable, so it has slipped a bit. We just want to put out a stable release of the JDK," according to the Sun representative.

Like its predecessors, JDK 1.2 will contain all of the technologies that make up the Java platform--including the Java Virtual Machine and class libraries--and will ultimately find its way into Java development tools, browsers, and other applications from Sun and other vendors.

Sun executives have for months been touting the release of JDK 1.2. Jim Mitchell, Sun's vice president of technology and architecture, said earlier this year that the release will be "one of the biggest events of the year for Sun."

For that reason, a slip in the JDK's delivery means that new releases of browsers and Java tools based on it are also affected.

Analysts said today that the slip is of concern, but isn't surprising given the scope of the update. JDK 1.2 is expected to substantially boost Java performance through a new just-in-time compiler, to make Java security tighter but more flexible, and to include compatibility with the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) standard, better connectivity to databases, additional support for JavaBeans component applications, and a host of other improvements.

The complete JDK 1.2 feature list is posted to Sun's Web site.

"The slip won't have a huge impact on developers overall. But it could affect projects counting on [JDK 1.2's] new features," said Phil Costa, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "Hopefully, anyone who is building a serious project hasn't limited themselves to this release.

"A slip is of concern on a project basis, but not surprising given the scope of [Sun's] goals," Costa said.

Sun maintains that it is on track with development of a faster compiler technology, called HotSpot, intended to speed up Java's performance. With HotSpot, Sun is hoping to put an end to complaints that Java applications are much slower than compiled C++ programs.

The company said HotSpot is now in alpha testing, with a public beta slated for the third quarter and shipment by year's end, Sun said.

But there is dispute over HotSpot's timeliness, as well. While Sun maintains the technology was always slated for delivery by the end of the year, Ron Rappaport, an analyst with Zona Research claims that Sun promised delivery by summer.

"It is late. HotSpot is highly anticipated, and it's not an encouraging thought for those hoping that Java technology will get better," he said.

"Sun will forever be the creator of Java and the parent trying to deliver a standard. But you do have guys like Microsoft and IBM that are brewing their own Java. It's moments like this that their value to the future of Java development is emphasized," said Rappaport.

He also added that Sun's buyout of NetDynamics announced today may have played a part in HotSpot's tardiness, as Sun lays out a plan to combine technologies.

JDK 1.2 includes several ambitious new features. Sun will augment the JDK's existing sandbox security model to allow administrators to fine-tune the ability of Java applets to access resources on PCs.

The new model, which Sun terms an "extended" sandbox model, lets companies define security privileges customized for each user or for groups of users. The extended sandbox is intended to address criticisms from developers and system managers that Java's current security policy is too inflexible.

JDK 1.2 also includes graphical user interface components code-named Swing, codeveloped by Sun and Netscape Communications.

The components include standard interface elements such as view options, tool bars, choosers, buttons, and menus that can be added to Java applications. Once an interface is designed, a developer can assign it a specific "look and feel" catering either to Windows, Macintosh, or Solaris.