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JavaStations finally ready

The JavaStation holds the same position that Java Man does in human evolution--historically important but increasingly irrelevant.

After approximately a year and a half of delays, Sun Microsystems is finally going to release its JavaStation for general commercial use at the end of this month.

"At the end of this month we will release the JavaStation," Steve Tirado, director of product marketing for Sun's Java Systems Group, said today during a computer education conference in Miami.

Most likely, the release will coincide with Sun's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, which will take place during the week of March 23.

In many ways, the JavaStation holds the same position in the computer industry that Java Man occupies in human evolution. That is, it is historically important but increasingly irrelevant as a living, thriving member of society.

Introduced as a concept to great fanfare in early 1996, the JavaStation was touted as an inexpensive, easy-to-manage desktop that would promote the use programs written in Sun's Java computer language. Indirectly, the JavaStation would also weaken Microsoft's grip on the computing platforms of corporate America. JavaStations were to be released in late 1996 for $750 to $1,000.

Unfortunately for Sun, the ability of competitors to copy the low-cost desktop concept outpaced its ability to roll out JavaStations.

First, Intel and Microsoft promoted "Net PCs" as an alternative to JavaStations and other NCs. These failed to excite customers.

Next, computer vendors came up with an easier solution: cheap desktops. Desktop prices plummeted drastically in 1997, first in consumer markets and later in corporate markets. Corporate computers using 200-MHz Pentium MMX chips now sell for under $900 and will sell for $800 within a few weeks.

Terminal vendors also began to outline a cheaper and more efficient vision of low-cost terminal computing toward the end of 1997.

In the meantime, Sun had difficulty in working out all of the kinks with its JavaStation platform, especially the JavaOS and HotJava productivity application bundle, said sources. A computer engineer who participated in a JavaStation demonstration in June of 1997 said that the HotJava email client, for instance, took "about ten minutes to load."

Demonstration units of the JavaStation were released in October 1996, and Sun was to begin shipping in December of that year. Pushed back to February 1997, the JavaStation general commercial release was then moved back again to midyear and then to October of 1997.

A few corporations deployed JavaStations on a limited basis in 1997. Some of these deployments, however, were scaled back during the year. One of the largest users of the machines remains Sun itself.

Tirado acknowledged that the industry has been waiting for a wider release.

The JavaStations will cost $742 for the machine alone, and $995 for a machine with a monitor.