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HP opts for Java home brew

Hewlett-Packard announces plans to market its own Java Virtual Machine software, breaking with Sun and teaming with Microsoft.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) announced plans today to market its own Java Virtual Machine and said that Microsoft has licensed the technology for its Windows CE operating system, which could throw control of the Java programming language into question.

HP said its split with Java's owner,

Java Virtual Machine
This is the operating system-specific software that runs Java applications. The JVM insulates the Java application from the operating system and communicates with OS services on behalf of the application. Sun, Microsoft, HP, and other companies build JVMs. For increased performance, Java applications can also be run "native" against an operating system without the presence of a JVM, but that negates Java's "write once, run anywhere" advantage.
Sun Microsystems (SUNW), specifically is in the embedded systems market and does not affect HP's Unix systems business, in which the company has licensed Java from Sun.

The PC giant also said it will make a strong push to wrest the Java standard for small devices from Sun and to put it into an established standards body, a move Sun is likely to resist.

The moves clearly are a blow to Sun's bid to control the evolution of Java and come just days before JavaOne, a Sun-sponsored conference in San Francisco that is expected to draw more than 10,000 Java software programmers.

The in-house Java efforts at HP See special coverage: 
Java chaos were driven by the fees Sun is asking for its PersonalJava Virtual Machine, its insistence on controlling the Java standard, and Sun's requirements that any improvements that licensees make to Java must be given back to the company.

This is not HP's first run-in with Sun, a major rival in the Unix workstation market, over Java. Last year, HP opposed Sun's successful effort to be designated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as the official arbiter of Java as a standard.

Through the Microsoft licensing deal, HP also appears to be siding with the software giant


CNET Radio has more with Meta Group's Dave Folger
 
in a long-running and increasingly bitter battle over Java's future, indicating that there should be multiple versions of a Java Virtual Machine for small devices because of the wide range of capabilities in the hardware.

"We are a major provider of a broad range of business and consumer appliances," said Joe Beyers, general manager of HP's Internet software business unit, mentioning HP printers, credit card readers from its VeriFone unit, and devices from its test and measurements group, which includes medical devices.

"We see [appliances] as a core strategic area for us," he added, saying HP has been working on an embedded Java Virtual Machine for 18 months and has production releases of its virtual machine and an embedded application server available today.

"There are no embedded virtual machines today. As we and others want to move into the Java Virtual Machine space, it ought to be open out of the box," Beyers noted.

Despite the harsh words from HP, Sun executives said HP's Java Virtual Machine is a validation of the importance of Java to the computer industry. Sun also said it believes HP is making a clone of Java, compatible with Sun's specifications, and that Sun will compete with HP to make sure its version of Java is better.

"Our copyrights say they can build a clone," said Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products at Sun. "I don't mind playing Intel if they want to play AMD," he added, referring to the semiconductor giant and its rival, which makes Intel-compatible clone microprocessors.

Sun said that contrary to Microsoft's version of Java, the HP version is expected to be an exact clone. Sun is suing Microsoft in federal court over the software giant's implementation of Java.

"[HP] said they are building a clone," Kannegaard added. "If they are building something that isn't a clone, that's stupid." Sun said it was too early to say definitively if HP's version is an exact replica because it hasn't seen the software yet. For now, Sun is taking HP for its word.

HP said it developed the virtual machine and a corresponding set of class libraries independently of Sun. The company also said that it will market the technology to other "select" companies, which it declined to name.

"We see a business opportunity to license this broad," Beyers said. "We are truly intending this to be launched into the industry."

He added HP is pursuing separate courses for Java in the small appliances market and in its larger Unix systems. For its systems business, the company has licensed Java and plans to announce new Java software tools Monday for corporate developers.

"We still retain a strong relationship [with Sun on Java] on the systems side, driven by HP-UX," Beyers noted.

HP joined Microsoft, its strongest software ally, in objecting to Sun submitting Java to the ISO, a status normally reserved for industry consortia, not single companies.

"Hewlett-Packard would like to reiterate that we are unconvinced that a single, for-profit company can serve as a reasonable [specification] submitter," HP representative Karen Higginbottom wrote in comments submitted in October. "All companies will rightly work toward their best interest." That phrase may have foreshadowed HP's announcement today.

Sun and Microsoft are locked in a legal skirmish over Java. In a lawsuit filed last October, Sun accused Microsoft of intentionally trying to sabotage Java, which some analysts say has the potential to threaten the Redmond's dominance in the PC operating system market. Sun's suit claims that Microsoft's implementation of Java in toolkit software and in the Internet Explorer browser balkanizes Java, thwarting Sun's promise that it will run on any platform.

Reuters contributed to this report.