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Java kit fills gaps

Sun's JavaSoft division is working on a new version of the Java Development Kit that will provide better Java security and improved JavaBeans.

This summer, Sun Microsystems (SUNW) will fill several important gaps in its Java technology--such as the seemingly simple but still not available ability to drag and drop text.

Sun's JavaSoft division is working on a new version of the Java Development Kit (JDK) for release this summer that will deliver several important enhancements, including improved Java security and JavaBeans.

Like its predecessors, JDK 1.2 will contain all of the technologies that make up the Java platform--including the Java virtual machine and class libraries--and will ultimately find its way into Java development tools, browsers, and other applications.

The enhancements are meant to provide Java programs with the power and flexibility of applications written in native code for operating systems such as Windows or Macintosh. Critics of Java complain that the technology has fallen woefully short of such native applications because it still lacks basic functions such as support for file-saving and the ability to cut and paste text.

Native applications are those written in a compiled language like C or C++. A tool called a compiler must rewrite the code into the "native" language of the hardware platform the application is intended for. This is why the same application won't run on a Macintosh and a PC.

While acknowledging that Java has a ways to go before it catches up to the full-grown capabilities of C and C++ programs, Sun contends that Java is nonetheless superior to these older programming languages because it allows developers to write applications once and run them on any of the various platforms that support Java. Sun is now working to round out Java's capabilities, however, so that it can compete on more equal terms with more mature progamming languages that take better advantage of each operating system's unique features.

One of the key improvements of the JDK 1.2 will be a new version of JavaBeans, code-named Glasgow. JavaBeans is a component architecture for developers who want to combine reusable chunks of Java code into whole applications. The architecture also lets Java and non-Java programs cooperate so that, for example, a user could embed a Java animation into a Microsoft Word document.

Developing the first version of JavaBeans was an important step but Glasgow will make JavaBeans much more useful for end users, said Larry Cable, a project leader at JavaSoft.

"We needed to deliver that fundamental technology as quickly as possible so developers could put it into application development environments," said Cable. "We had a fairly extensive list of technologies that we knew we had to work on but we couldn't get them all into the first release [of JavaBeans]."

Glasgow will provide a drag-and-drop facility that will let users effortlessly move data between Java and native code applications. Glasgow will also include a "data typing system" based on the MIME (multipurpose Internet mail extensions) standard for automatically registering various types of content--such as sound clips or video files--with a Java application and then playing it.

A draft specification for Glasgow will be available on the Net in the next two to three weeks. The final version will ship with JDK 1.2 towards the end of this summer, Cable said.

The new JDK 1.2 will also come with a revised security architecture that will build on existing capabilities to let Java programs venture outside of the security sandbox.

In JDK 1.2, systems administrators will be able to create a security policy for their companies related to Java applets. For example, a company might only accept Java controls that are digitally signed by a particular software company.

JDK 1.2 will also include the Java foundation classes, a set of software libraries announced by Sun and Netscape earlier this month at the Java One developer conference.

Users will not automatically receive the new capabilities of JDK 1.2 when it is introduced in the summer. As with JDK 1.1, users will need to upgrade their browsers or other software in order to run applications that use the JDK 1.2.

Sun's Java licensees, however, are contractually required to support new versions of the JDK in their products.