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Java-based TV guide on tap

At a trade show, Spyglass will demonstrate Java-based applications for viewing and organizing TV programming on next-gen TVs and set-tops.

    This week at a trade show, Spyglass will demonstrate Java-based applications for viewing and organizing TV programming, applications that could find a home in next-generation televisions and set-top boxes.

    At the Embedded Systems Conference, the company will show off an electronic programming guide (EPG) intended for use on Java-capable platforms that can display TV show times, program ratings, and other key information, according to Wayne Yurtin, director of business development for Spyglass.

    With such technology, users would be able to schedule their TV viewing by dragging a show name onto the calendar application. In addition consumer convenience, the Spyglass applications could give Java a much-need boost in the market.

    Although the program sounds somewhat mundane, electronic programming guides will be one of the most-used applications in the digital set-top boxes that are being developed and deployed by cable companies. Indeed, some in the industry believe these guides will be the equivalent of Web browsers for digital TV.

    Advanced electronic programming guides will allow consumers to navigate through an increasingly complicated array of program choices. For instance, with the coming of digital television to an increasing number of homes in 1999, some broadcasters may be sending several programs in the space of one channel. Choosing content could be made easier without the traditional reference to a channel number.

    More importantly, for Sun Microsystems, the availability of such an application marks a much-needed show of support for PersonalJava, which is a subset of the Java software platform for Web phones, set-top boxes, and handheld devices. A major new consumer electronics company is expected to retain Spyglass in the coming weeks to further develop the programming guide and other Java-based programs for set-top applications, sources say.

    The news comes as WebTV, the Internet access device company that's owned by Microsoft, has dropped plans to incorporate broad support for the Java computing language into its product line. Sun has had trouble getting licensees to ship consumer products that use Java, in spite of a number of acquisitions intended to bolster its technology offerings.

    Spyglass's development of the Java-based EPG follows closely on the heels of an agreement to work with General Instrument for creating software and programming tools for the cable and satellite industry, some of which entails application development for Java and Windows CE-based cable set-top boxes.

    Spyglass develops browsers and other software products for both hardware and software companies. It not only licenses its browser source code but also provides engineering services, such as designing user interfaces.