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Sun speeds up Java just in time

Sun Microsystems' SunSoft division is lobbying browser vendors to speed up the performance of Java applets by adopting a supercharged version of of its Java engine.

NEW YORK--Sun Microsystems' SunSoft division is lobbying browser vendors to speed up the performance of Java applets by adopting a supercharged version of of its Java engine.

Ironically, one of the programming language's chief advantages--its portability from one platform to another--is also one of its drawbacks. Java's portability is possible because its applets are interpreted, or read by a special layer of software called the Java Virtual Machine on each client, instead of being written or compiled to specific hardware. But interpreted languages are slower than compiled languages.

Sun's solution to this paradox is a just-in-time compiler for its Java engine that translates Java program code into native machine code just as the applet is downloaded to a client. Once downloaded, larger applets will run 10 to 20 times faster than before, according to analysts who track programming developments.

The compiler "will address some of the speed issues," said Tracy Corbo, a senior research analyst at International Data. "How much of a performance issue are you going to have for a small application? It depends on what you want to do."

The Java engine with the just-in-time compiler will be included in the next version of Java WorkShop, an integrated development environment due in the third quarter, said Jon Williams, product line manager at SunSoft. The current version Java WorkShop, which runs on Windows NT, Windows 95, and Solaris, is available for free trial downloads from Sun's Web site.

In fact, Sun is not the only developer to be working on a Java just-in-time compiler. Borland and Symantec have similar plans. But as the Java supplier, Sun is likely to have the most pull with browser vendors to get them to incorporate its take on the technology.

Williams said today that Sun will work with Java licensees, including Netscape, Spyglass, and Microsoft, to incorporate the just-in-time compiler into their products. Although these Java licensees were not available for comment, Willams said he expects most to adopt the new software.