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Sun gets small with Java-based browser

The company releases a Java-based browser for devices such as TV set-top boxes or cell phones, the first product from Sun's acquisition of Beduin.

Sun Microsystems has released a Java-based browser for devices such as TV set-top boxes or cell phones today, an incremental step in Sun's strategy to get small.

Called the Personal Applications browser, the software is the first product to result from Sun's acquisition of the Canadian company Beduin, which created the browser.

The browser is written in Java, which means that it should be able to run in any Java-enabled device. The browser will be joined by other Sun software to form a Personal Applications suite, Sun said.

The core browser occupies 280K of memory, which Sun describes as a "tiny footprint." While that's fine for personal digital assistants or set-top boxes, cell phone makers usually only have 10K to 30K of memory to spare, said Sean Kaldor, an analyst with International Data Corporation.

"If you go to a true cell phone maker, 280K is huge," Kaldor said. Nonetheless, it's "a nice fresh move" compared to bulkier Internet phone efforts from Microsoft and Mozilla.

The browser has features to make it work well on small devices, said Sun, such as a zoom function to help show Web pages on tiny screens. The Personal Applications browser also contains a feature so that clicking on a hyperlink can dial a phone number for the user.

These features are important for these markets, but won't likely completely satisfy the needs of manufacturers entering this realm, cautioned Kaldor. Web browsing on a desktop computer is likely to be different from on a cell phone, where a user likely would only go to specific sites that have information tailored for the tiny and likely text-only display. For example, a user could set up a page with headlines and stock quotes, he said.

The Personal Applications products dovetails with recent deals with Symbian and NTT Docomo that allow Java technology to be used in wireless communication devices.

Sun isn't the only player in the market for tiny browsers, pointing to similar efforts by Spyglass and Planetweb.

The Personal Applications products are compliant with Sun's PersonalJava specification, a stripped-down version of Java that loses some Java functionality in exchange for being able to fit on smaller devices.

Putting Java "runtime" technology such as PersonalJava in a device lets it run software written in the Java programming language. At least theoretically, that means a company could write a piece of software once and have it run on any device, regardless of the underlying hardware differences.