SAN JOSE, California--As it underscored its commitment to cross-platform applications, Netscape Communications (NSCP) promised today that it would deliver a "100 percent pure" Java version of its Communicator software next year.
The announcement was made by Netscape chief technology officer Marc Andreessen during his keynote at the company's third developer conference. Andreessen used his address to discuss the importance of "crossware" applications, programs that run on multiple platforms and are written in a variety of programming languages. But the surprise was reference to a Java-only version of Communicator.
Marc Andreessen delivers DevCon keynote.
The Java version of Communicator is expected to be delivered toward the end of next year. It will follow the next major version of Communicator, code-named Mercury, due in early 1998, executives said today. Netscape shipped final versions of Communicator and its SuiteSpot 3.0 servers this week.
The move to develop a pure Java Internet client would put into practice a message that Netscape has long preached to other software developers, namely that they should build cross-platform Java programs rather than applications than run only on Windows 95 and Windows NT systems.
Yesterday, Netscape threw its support behind a related technology, JavaBeans, which lets programmers develop modular software components that can be pieced together into bigger applications. (See related story)
Andreessen said that the advantage of building crossware applications is that companies can develop applications more quickly than their competitors can. But the resulting speed advantage may be short-lived, Andreessen pointed out, as competitors constantly race to keep up with each other.
"All it really takes is one company to start harnessing technology, and the rest of the industry has to race to catch up because the bar has been raised," Andreessen said.
Andreessen suggested that the new version of Communicator would not only be written in Java but also be constructed with components. Like other proponents of this method of software development, Netscape argues that component-based applications can be developed faster and cheaper than traditional "monolithic" applications.
But transforming its core client product into Java is a task easier said than done. Currently, Java does not provide the performance and features that many developers have come to expect from native applications. Netscape and Sun Microsystems, though, say they are confident that Java will be able to eventually match the quality of applications for Windows and other operating systems.
Andreessen took a couple of obligatory potshots at Microsoft in his keynote and even suggested that Microsoft could be confusing developers by creating different, incompatible versions of Windows--including Windows CE, Windows 95, and the next upgrade of Windows 95 known as Memphis. "It's now clear Windows is fragmenting into multiple, incompatible operating systems," he said.
Netscape posted a white paper on crossware on its Web site today.
Photo by Donald R. Winslow