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SGI licenses Sun's Java 3D technology

SGI has licensed Sun Microsystems' Java 3D technology, but SGI says it won't displace its own software.

SGI, a company renowned for its visual computing products, has licensed Sun Microsystems' Java 3D technology, but SGI says this won't displace its current technology.

Java 3D is a technology that lets computers using Sun's "write once, run anywhere" Java technology to describe three-dimensional computer graphics at an abstract level. It also helps designers accomplish basic 3D design tasks that take place over the network.

As space-age as it sounds, SGI said licensing Java3D wasn't that big a deal. "I'd almost go so far as saying it was a check box," said Michael Stebbins, group manager for the team in charge of Java development tools at SGI.

Instead, SGI expects the future of high-performance graphics to lie with its own OpenGL graphics description technique, which already works on many computing systems.

Sun positions Java 3D as a way to allow programmers to write 3D programs, such as those for mechanical design or financial analysis, without having to worry about the underlying hardware. Programs talk to Java 3D software from Sun that, in turn, talks to lower-level, system-specific graphics description technologies such as SGI's OpenGL or Microsoft's Direct3D.

Java 3D, introduced in December, is designed to allow companies to bring 3D programs to market, said Ken Tallman, senior product manager for Java 3D.

In addition, with Java 3D's network-savvy capabilities, "people working on a project don't have to be in the same physical location to see the same thing," Tallman said. For example, engineers from an airplane manufacturer and an airline company could both view and manipulate a model of the same airplane at the same time, he said.

One user of the technology is the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which chose to use Java 3D for its astronomy visualization tool.

Having SGI license Java 3D "furthers the ubiquity story" of Java 3D, Tallman said. Currently, the technology is available for Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, and Solaris, and soon will be available on Linux as well, he said.

SGI licensed Java3D for its Irix operating system "as part of our ongoing support for Java itself, and to satisfy the requirements of some of our Java-based developers," Stebbins said. In particular, developers were interested in the tools for network-enabled graphics programs.

However, SGI's OpenGL technology and the joint SGI-Microsoft Fahrenheit technology "are considered the serious solution," Stebbins said. Fahrenheit a program announced in 1997 to merge OpenGL with Microsoft's Direct3D.

The licensing of Java 3D "in no way competes with Fahrenheit or OpenGL. We see those as being the way the market is going," Stebbins said.

Terms of SGI's licensing of Java 3D were not disclosed.