Sun's Java Moves Beyond Buzzword

Dan Farber

I've always thought of Sun as innovative in the server and workstation market, but with no hope of extending its reach to the mainstream business market. Sun buying Apple didn't really make that much sense. CEO Scott McNealy can talk a good game and is adroit at skewering his competitors, but that's much different from becoming a bearer of de facto standards that define the way corporations create value from information systems.

Java, on the other hand, may enhance Sun's role as a mainstream industry innovator and leader. Until recently, Java was famous as hypeware, exemplified by cute but shallow applets. As one of our readers said, it's 100 percent buzzword-compliant.

Nonetheless, we give Java a PC Week Corporate IT Excellence award for innovation this week, and it appears that the language environment is quickly moving beyond novelty to practical application.

The best example so far of why Java is more than a cool concept is Sun's Java WorkShop, a development tool for creating applets that is completely written in Java. It is basically a set of Java applets that run on any platform that has a Java virtual machine, which for now includes Solaris and 32-bit Windows operating systems. A Macintosh version is due this summer.

Java WorkShop has another unique quality that is likely to affect the way all applications are developed in the future. The WorkShop applets and the applications created with the development environment live within a Web browser written in Java. The basic notion is that if you are developing for the Web, the container for the process should be Web-centric.

The user interface is a Web browser that integrates Net technologies like Hypertext Markup Language at the core of the product. You click on an icon to load a new tool that lives on a local Web page, and you can go to other pages to access other tools, code, and documentation.

Other Java-enabled tools take a different approach. Symantec's just-released Café is strictly Windows-based and isn't built around a Web browser, but it has powerful visual tools and good compiler performance (see our review of Café in the March 25 issue of PC Week or Java development tools from Borland, Microsoft, and Powersoft are due this year.

Ultimately, the notion of the Internet, the Web, and the browser will recede from memory. At the operating system level, Microsoft is bringing the Web metaphor to Windows and applications with its own ActiveX technologies. Netscape is creating a platform for hosting all kinds of Web-centric applications. It will simply be the way that people compute.

For corporations, there is no rush to make every application behave like a browser, but as new applications are developed for the Internet and intranets, the hyperlinking browser metaphor may create a more useful way of dealing with information overload.

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Ultimately, the notion of the Web and the browser will recede from memory.