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JavaStation sales delayed

Sun's version of the network computer, scheduled for late summer, now won't ship until the fall. The JavaStation OS could arrive in October.

A variety of problems with Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) version of the network computer have pushed back release of the boxes until fall, while the JavaStation OS won't be released until October or November.

But that isn't dampening the enthusiasm of some corporate customers waiting for the JavaStation, including Motorola (MOT).

Sun had originally expected to start selling the JavaStations in late summer following an internal rollout. Under the new schedule, however, an internal rollout of 3,000 of the stations worldwide won't happen until late July. Commercial release of the machines will then occur in the fall.

The new OS, meanwhile, won't be complete until October or November, said a public relations person that works with the JavaStation group.

The JavaStation NC is a desktop computer with a CD-ROM drive but no hard drive, no slots for add-in cards, and no floppy drive. In its basic configuration, which sells for just under $750, JavaStation has a Sun microSPARC II chip, up to 63MB of memory, networking connections, and a color monitor.

Although generally assumed to be a desktop unit, JavaStations are small enough to be used in a variety of settings. For example, the JavaStations for Motorola are encased in a kiosk cabinet.

The JavaStation is designed to be constantly connected to a high-powered application server that will take care of all its software and store documents for each connected user.

Unfortunately for Sun, news of the delay comes as corporate America appears to be warming up to the network computer.

"We are starting to see the Java application environment running real, distributed applications," said Ryan Martens, vice president of marketing at Avitek, a Boulder, Colorado, Java developer. "This paves the way for network computers."

Avitek, for example, just completed a Java-based extranet application for a telecommunications company that allows over 65,000 sales people to access an Oracle database. An extranet is a method of opening up an internal company network to outsiders over the Internet.

Motorola rolled out a beta test of Sun's version of the network computer for its human resources department, said Mike Durban, president of Open Business Systems, the Addison, Illinois-based integrator performing the deployment. If all goes well, Motorola will roll out the boxes in a nationwide beta in September, he said.

Motorola was not available for comment on the delay.

The company could have chosen a network computer using the PowerPC processor, which IBM and Motorola both manufacture. IBM last year came out with a line of network computers based on the PowerPC processor called the Net Station.

"They are getting quite a lot done in short order," said Durban, of the JavaStation. "But we are anxious for the major release."

So is Sun. The JavaStation and its animating software are still hampered by glitches. One person who saw a JavaStation demonstration last week at a Sun education seminar said it "takes about ten minutes to get email."

Sun is also still adding features. Unlike the current prototypes, the commercial version will run on an operating system that will rely on the most recent version of the Java Developer Kit, which has been out for months.

Sun's deployment of the JavaStation will be the first public test of the machine, an event which many see as a green light for other customers. The back end of the system is complete; the remaining work lies with the JavaStations themselves.

"We have some utility companies that are very interested," said Ahmad Gramian, principal at CorpInfo, a Los Angeles integrator. Durban said his company has three other large-scale JavaStation projects in the works, one with florist FTD and two others with unnamed companies.

JavaStation beta testers include Federal Express and British Telecom. Japanese bank Nomura International and a New York City elementary school are already committed to deploying the JavaStations. Nomura plans to roll out 1,000 of the machines over the next two years.