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Sun to announce JavaPhone spec at Supercomm

The firm will announce news at the conference designed to increase the appeal of Java for gadgets like cell phones.

Sun Microsystems will put more weight behind its push to inject Java into the telecommunications world next week.

Sun will announce Java news at the Supercomm conference designed to increase the appeal of Java for gadgets like cell phones as well as network software to run exotic features those phones can use. In addition, Sun will direct attention to higher-end computer hardware with previews of a new server code-named "Flapjack," aimed at telecommunications companies who need to be able to stack up lots of computing horsepower.

But not for the first time, the effort pits Sun against its adversary, Microsoft. The Redmond rival is planning a push of its own in the telecommunications market, plugging its Exchange software as a way to power fancy "unified messaging" services that unify regular telephone service with email and other communication methods.

Sun has teamed with Lucent to write its own unified messaging software, though.

Sun believes that Java, its "write once, run anywhere" programming technology, is just the thing to let companies add new features such as address books or basic Web browsing to portable gadgets such as cell phones or personal digital assistants.

The idea behind Java in this area is that a phone manufacturer could write a smart phone program, such as one that retrieved stock quotations off the Internet, then use it across many different models, despite differences in underlying hardware. Or a company could write such software and license it to several different phone companies that have Java-enabled phones.

Microsoft's telecom moves That process could become easier with the debut next week of the JavaPhone specification, sources said. That specification lays out in detail fancy Java-enabled phone features such as an address book, calendar, user profiles, power management, and automatic dialers, said Anne Thomas, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group. In addition, it describes "datagrams," a standard way of sharing information between those programs so, for example, an email program could send a dialing program a phone number.

Sun won a major Java victory with the endorsement of Symbian, a consortium creating the basic software for the next-generation cell phone, Thomas said. "Sun got a commitment from all the major phone vendors that they're going to be building Java environments on their phones," Thomas said.

Size matters
But the standard edition of Java is way too big for those small devices, instead requiring the memory and processing power of a machine more the size of a personal computer. As a result, Sun has been working on changes to Java to get it working on smaller machines, an effort that hasn't been universally hailed.

Among those efforts to shrink Java are PersonalJava, a stripped-down but still general-purpose version that reduces the required memory footprint, and EmbeddedJava, which is based on PersonalJava but tosses out whatever components a company doesn't need.

Another piece of the Java equation will come with the announcement of the next version of ChorusOS, an operating system designed to power devices that must respond in real time--for example, a factory floor robot or a heartbeat monitor.

ChorusOS, which Sun obtained when it bought the company Chorus in November 1997, also happens to be the core of JavaOS, Java-centric operating system software that contains the critical "virtual machine" needed to run Java programs.

Sun also will promote its Java Advanced Intelligent Network (JAIN) initiative at Supercomm, sources said. JAIN is a technology Sun advocates as a way to make it easier for telecommunications companies to roll out fancy features for telephone subscribers.

Analysts see those fancy features as a way for phone companies to distinguish themselves from competitors and keep revenues coming. Using JAIN, Sun argues, it will be easier to replace today's cleverer features such as three-way calling with services that can route phone calls to specific phones during different times of the day, or let phone systems check credit card authorization as a person makes a call.

Flapjack brings new meaning to "thin server"
The Flapjack server is a rack-mounted server that's just 1.75 inches tall, according to a source familiar with the product. It's likely based on Sun's CP1400 board, which means it uses a 300 MHz UltraSparc IIi chip.

Sun declined to comment on the Supercomm announcements or activities.

Analysts have said Sun has an advantage in the telecommunications market because of the industry's fondness for Unix systems. However, Sun is still getting its feet wet in the business. Sun sees telecommunications market as a lucrative area.

A super-thin server would have interest among Internet service providers, particularly bandwidth-dependent firms such as Qwest or Exodus, said David van Beveren, head of EIS Computers. The Internet service provider market, with its need for high-density servers, is "the biggest single sector for us," he said of his company, which sells its own computers based on Sun hardware and software.