CMC Magazine: October 1998

Java in Focus

by Robley Curtice

JavaOne, billed as the world’s largest developers’ conference, draws the crucial people who develop programs utilizing the Java language and who are essential to the life of Java. Twelve thousand plus attendees flocked to the fifteen million dollar conference put on by ZD Comdex & Forums for Sun Microsystems. How is Java doing? Consensus about the overall development of Java is that not much is happening in the desktop environment, but the enterprise/server area and the smaller systems (Internet-enabled consumer devices, Internet appliances, and embedded systems) is on fire. And the Java Virtual Machine (which allows it to run on any PC) has to improve its performance, which it is doing. A few Java-based network computers (Sun’s JavaStation) were commercially shipped during the week of the conference, and a few customers (Saab Cars USA, Allied Signal Cos., and PHP Healthcare) were using them, but overall it is a quiet market.

All the thousands of attendees received a silver iButton, 16kb, Java Ring. Packed in the compact, secure, stainless-steel button on top the ring was a million-transistor, single-chip trusted microcomputer with a powerful Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The processor features a high-speed, 1024-bit modular exponentiator for RSA encryption, large RAM and ROM memory capacity, and an unalterable real-time clock. A Lithium-backed nonvolatile SRAM was used to house a personalized business card for everyone who attended and to play a fractal game for prizes. It is envisioned that the ring could be used to log onto an NC anywhere in the world and download their The ring fits into a small, round clip that is tied into a computer in order to give it access to programming. Dallas Semiconductor Corporation came up with this incredible device.

The third day saw Scott McNealy, Chairman, President and CEO of Sun, and just returned from Washington where he faced a senate committee and the indomitable Mr. Gates, giving his welcoming and ballyhoo speech on behalf of Java. Dressed in a dark blue blazer, white shirt and rumpled blue jeans, he started off with humorous "top ten list of best pick-up lines for nerds." And delivered the message that Java is prospering and is staying "pure"(i.e., not being fragmented into separate code that will only work on specific brand machines). He also implied that part of the blame for the NC failure lay with software developers who tried to mimic Windows rather coming up with an original system.

Trying to get a handle on whether Java is being over-hyped, we visited the Pencom booth where we cornered a knowledgeable programmer. Pencom is a consulting company that came up with Metaphoria Data Transformation Server (DTS), a terrific product that culls and integrates database, spreadsheet, electronic mail, text, graphics and other digital information for display in a Web browser. It generates Internet, Intranet and Extranet pages that are tailored on the fly for each user. Designed for business users, it provides quick access to data from multiple sources to any desktop computer, either across a corporate network or via the Internet.

Evan Maloney, an Internet Technologist according to his card, has been working with Java from the very beginning. Java is both a language and a platform, according to Sun but not according to Microsoft. Essentially it is a method of constructing software that will run on every machine in the house. And since most companies have a unholy collection of machines dating back to the stone age, it is welcomed by MIS managers. We asked Evan about this and he began by giving us some background on Microsoft. The Redmond giant based their strength on having integrated system - one part of their office suite works with all others, for instance. Java undermines this integration because developers could write software that also would work with their products. Thus it is a direct threat. But at this point in time Java is more efficient programmed to servers rather than consumer products. And in many, many back offices the internal software is "write once, run anywhere" Java.

Java being a young language is only just now developing experts. Evan said he believed so thoroughly in it that he has devoted two years of his life working with it exclusively. He and the other programmers in a few years are going to exert much influence on what language is used to develop software. And being a young language it is under siege. One of the criticisms of Sun is that they are keeping control over the language. Evan thought that it must be controlled at this point until it is mature and robust enough to stand on its own. He thought the chances of Sun releasing its grip on it once this happens was quite good. Further, we have often wondered whether Microsoft's huge advertising budget plays any part in the editorial and pieces we see in magazines.

PC Magazine in its April issue has many criticisms of Java that need to be examined. First, they keep including Macintosh in the evaluations. Forget it! Business hardly ever has to factor Macintoshes in their equations. Their benchmarks indicate a 70% compatibility, which in most cases in good enough. Also there was problems with applets and the Netscape and Microsoft browsers that could have been laid to the basic incompatibility of certain aspects of those browsers. And their evaluations don't include all the new releases at JavaOne that address the problem of the Virtual Machine and speed (something called Hotspot makes Java close to C++ in speed). Besides it must be noted that the other languages took almost ten years to develop completely and Java has just celebrated its third birthday. At the end of March Sony announced that it planned to license Java to develop interactive applications for digital set-top television boxes. This followed closely on Ericsson telephones announcement of a similar agreement. Such agreements are certainly votes of confidence. Incidentally, one touch we noted was when James Gosling, a bear of a man in a tee-shirt, and one of the originators of "Oak", now known as Java, sadly remarked that his "wrists were gone" in his welcoming speech. Sitting in chairs, hammering away day and night on computer keyboard takes awesome tolls.

Robley Curtice (, a San Franciscan, is an early-retired teacher who haunts West Coast technical conferences searching for the 21st Century Killer App.

Copyright © 1998 by Robley Curtice. All Rights Reserved.

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