Sun posts Java foundation class

Sun Microsystems and Netscape cement their Java partnership, but Microsoft says it isn't joining their gang.

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Sun Microsystems (SUNW) and Netscape Communications (NSCP) today cemented their Java partnership, but Microsoft (MSFT) says it isn't joining their gang.

Earlier today, the companies posted an developer release of the Java foundation classes (JFC) on Sun's FTP site. The JFCs are a set of software building blocks for composing the look-and-feel of Java applications, as well as adding basic capabilities like printing.

Announced in April, the JFCs represent the merger of existing Netscape and Sun technologies--the abstract windowing toolkit (AWT) and Internet foundation classes (IFC)--and are an attempt to avert the confusion that two Java programming standards were sure to cause amongst developers. IBM also participated in the development of JFCs.

Unfortunately, one of Sun's most important Java licensees, Microsoft, says it wants nothing to do with the JFCs. The software giant has developed its own set of class libraries, the application foundation classes (AFC), which it intends to ship with its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser by the end of the summer instead of the JFCs. A beta version of Explorer with the AFCs will be out later this month; a standalone version of AFCs came out in April.

"They caught up to AFC, almost," said Cornelius Willis, director of platform marketing at Microsoft.

Although the tools are incompatible with each other, the AFCs and JFCs have the same aim. They both containing graphic user interface components, such as tool bars, buttons, and menus, that developer can quickly assemble into applications rather than having to write them individually from scratch.

Sun said that JFCs has a unique feature that lets a user change the look-and-feel of an application "on the fly" as they are running an application. A user can, for example, choose between an interface that is standard across all operating systems or one that melds more closely to the unique appearance of a Windows 95 or Mac OS program.

"The focus has been to make it very easy to build fairly complicated user interfaces," said Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products at Sun's JavaSoft division.

Sun said that it will ship the final version of the JFCs as part of the next edition of the Java development kit (JDK) in the fourth quarter. According to Rick Fleischman, group product manager for tools at Netscape, the company will release a version of Communicator that supports JFCs "as soon as possible" after the final JFCs are released.