When Sun Microsystems first introduced its Java software, the computer industry saw it as a challenge to Microsoft's dominance of desktop computers. Now, though, the presence of Java on desktop computers is taken for granted, and Sun is moving on to new challenges.
One of those challenges is getting programmers to take advantage of the installed base, so that software, such as the next version of the Napster client, is written for Java instead of Windows or another particular machine. Another challenge will be to spread Java capabilities to enough set-top boxes, cars, cell phones and other non-PC devices to make Java a major player there, as well.
Sun today announced some significant victories in the effort to spread Java.
As expected, the stripped-down version of Java for credit card-sized computers has attracted Citibank and American Express. Sun chief executive Scott McNealy, speaking today at a keynote address at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco, said 100 million Java-enabled smart cards will ship this year and 250 million next year.
Sun also grabbed Sega, which will make its Dreamcast video game consoles Java-enabled. Sega also will include Java capabilities on a new cell phone it's developing with Motorola, said Sega president Shoichiro Irimajiri.
This September, Sega will unveil a Java-based network gaming service called Seganet that will allow people to play games over the Internet, Irimajiri said. And the cell phones will be able to play 10 games that will be launched in 2001 using a Java gaming standard in development by Motorola, he said.
Sun's Paul Loos also showed Java-enabled cell phones from Motorola and NTT Docomo, as well as a Java-powered Blackberry pager from Research In Motion.
Also coming down the pipeline will be a Java-enabled set-top box from General Instrument that AT&T will distribute, Loos said.
Apple and Sun Microsystems, not always the closest of allies, said they'd be working more closely together to improve Java on Macintosh computers. The upcoming MacOS X operating system will come with the newest version of Java 2 Standard Edition, said Apple chief executive Steve Jobs.
"Some of you have not been thrilled with Java on the Mac. Sun and Apple haven't really worked that close together on Java in the past," Jobs said, promising that will change.
"We want to bring Java back to the desktop in a really big way," he said. "We're working hard to make Macintosh the best Java delivery vehicle on the planet."
In his keynote, McNealy couldn't resist a few jabs at Microsoft, whose license to use Java expires in March 2001.
In particular, McNealy said that Java is immune to viruses such as Melissa and "I Love You" that have spread through Microsoft Outlook, a statement that security experts generally back up.
"I love you, you love me, look what happens with VB," McNealy sang, referring to Microsoft's Visual Basic programming language, which some viruses have employed to seize control over Windows computers.
But even McNealy indirectly acknowledged that the battle with Microsoft is only part of the Java test. The next frontier is spreading it everywhere to the profusion of networked gadgets.
"Anything that has a digital heartbeat is going to want to be on the Internet in some way," McNealy said.
Even if Sun spreads Java to all manner of devices, getting people to bring software to them will be another challenge. To jump-start part of that effort, American Express chief information officer Glen Salow today announced a $50,000 prize for the best entry in a contest to develop new uses for its Java-enabled "Blue" smart card.
|Sun's Bill Joy|
The company also announced plans for a new programming interface, or a set of instructions, that will allow developers to build Java-based e-commerce software that can generate and exchange messages using XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for exchanging data. The new interface--called Java API for XML Messaging--is being developed under the Java Community Process.
Java and XML fit together like a "hand and glove," said Pat Sueltz, head of Sun's Java efforts.
News.com's Wylie Wong contributed to this report.