Netscape cutting back on Java

The company says it is ending its in-house development of the Java virtual machine the same day Sun touts a big Java licensing deal with Motorola.

3 min read
Sun Microsystems (SUNW) today touted a big Java licensing deal with Motorola, but Netscape Communications is cutting back on some of its Java development.

Sun inked a deal to give Motorola free reign in integrating all types of Java across its product lines. Sun chief executive Scott McNealy called the deal the "largest technology licensing agreement in the history of the Java platform."

At the same time, Netscape is ending its in-house development of the Java virtual machine (JVM), the code in its browsers that lets a user run Java applications from the Internet.

The company, which has not yet reached full compliance with Sun's Java specifications, will continue to support current versions of its JVM but won't be enhancing it. Instead, Netscape will work on "Open Java API," an enhancement that lets other companies' JVMs run within its Communicator software.

The shift could actually help Netscape fulfill its obligation as a Java licensee to be fully compliant with the Java specification, according to JavaSoft president Alan Baratz.

"This will allow Netscape to honor our licensing agreement more easily," he said. "What matters with respect to the agreement...is that the product must ship with an uplevel implementation of the JVM that passes Sun's compatibility test. Netscape is simply changing the model [by which it ships compatible JVMs]."

Despite its inability to catch up to the latest Java specification in its browsers, Netscape has remained a close ally of Sun. On the other hand, Microsoft, which also runs a noncompliant version of the JVM in its latest browser and development tools, has run afoul of Sun for its use of the Java logo. A court hearing for Sun's lawsuit has been set for February 27. Baratz declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Netscape is expected to announce hundreds of job cuts as early as tomorrow, but officials won't say if the cutbacks will affect the Java development team. "We won't have the same level of JDK development in-house, but we'll put those resources to work on the OpenJava APIs," said company spokeswoman Andrea Cook.

Netscape is proceeding with its development of an all-Java Navigator browser, as well as Java portions of its server software, Cook said.

The company will make the source code for the Open Java API freely available on the Web, just as it will do with the upcoming Communicator 5.0. The code will not be complete when the Communicator 5.0 beta is posted later this quarter, but it is expected to be ready by the time the final version ships later this year.

"This is a good thing for Java," said David Smith, vice president of Internet strategies for the Gartner Group, an industry consulting firm. "It will make it less fragmented."

Netscape's OpenJava API will be tested on all the platforms that Navigator supports.

Meanwhile, Sun announced its licensing pact with Motorola after signing the deal "in the past two weeks," according to group product manager Curtis Sasaki. The deal "definitely improves our revenue stream," he said, but declined to disclose financial details.

Motorola did not specify products or time tables for its implementations of Java.