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Sep 15

Java Battles Were Inevitably Lost

Better known by its code name, “Java activator,’ Java Plug-in aims not only to resolve incompatibilities between the Java virtual machines (VMs) for the Netscape and Microsoft browsers, but also to help address the chum in versions of Java VMs by allowing developers to specify which Java VM their applets are designed to work with. Java Plug-in, which in this initial release supports Windows 95, Windows NT, and Solaris, will work with Internet Explorer 3.02 and Netscape Navigator 3.0, as well as with the latest releases of those browsers.

java-plugJava Plug-in can be used to redirect applets away from the Java VMs included with Microsoft’s and Netscape’s browsers to one supplied by JavaSoft. Netscape has endorsed this approach, which dovetails with its decision to get out of the business of creating its own Java VM and to make it easier to integrate replacements. Microsoft argues that few users or developers will want to replace its Java VM, which is widely seen as one of the most stable and highest-performing.

A PLAN FOR MACS

Sun and Apple Computer announced last week that they are cooperating to adapt Java Plug-in as a way of making Apple’s MacOS Runtime for Java (MRJ) work with Netscape Navigator. Apple has been collaborating with Microsoft on Java VM development, but JavaSoft says the Mac implementation is fully compatible with its specifications.

Apple did not say when it will produce its version of the plug-in, however, and it did not indicate any plans to use the plug-in strategy with Internet Explorer. Frank Rimalovski, JavaSoft’s JDK product line manager, said getting an updated Java runtime into Navigator was clearly more of a priority for Apple.

Microsoft is already moving toward using MRJ with Internet Explorer for the Mac, but nothing indicates that Apple intends its use of Java Plug-in to include IE for the Mac.

JavaSoft is talking to other operating system vendors about adapting Java Plug-in for their platforms. according to JavaSoft’s Rimalovski “However, the number one request was for a Mac version” he said.

John Dhabolt, director of advanced technologies at Natural Intelligence and former head of Roaster Technologies, called the agreement between Sun and Apple a step in the right direction. For a long time, the Mac was home to four incompatible Java implementations–Netscape’s Microsoft’s, Apple’s, and one that Roaster Technologies supplied with its own Java development environment. “That was definitely a frustration for many of our users,” Dhabolt said.

“The only really bad news is that Apple’s still not quite up to speed on their JVM development, and that leads to frustrations on behalf of some developers,” he continued.

Ultimately, there is a limit to how much that situation will improve, because Mac OS doesn’t provide everything Java expects from a modern operating system, Dhabolt said. When it comes to things like running multiple processes simultaneously, he said, the only remedy will come from Rhapsody, the next generation operating system in which Apple plans to combine Mac and Unix technologies.

IBM’S REACTION

IBM is evaluating the practicality of using the Java Plug-in approach with its OS/2 and AIX operating systems, said Bernie Spang, IBM’s business relationship manager for Java software.

Although IBM provides a fully compatible Java VM for those platforms, only standalone applets can take advantage of it. Netscape’s browsers for OS/2 and AIX currently run any applets they encounter within Netscape’s own Java VM.

“The change in Netscape’s approach opens up some new possibilities,” Spang said. Beyond that, Java Plug-in offers the ability to control the “level” of Java used by an applet and to dynamically upgrade the Java VM, he said.

In addition to deploying applications to a consistent Java Developers Kit 1.1-produced Java VM, Java Plug-in users will be able to move to the JDK 1.2 whenever they decide that is appropriate. JavaSoft’s Rimalovski said. For many enterprise customers, that upgrade will take place only after the months needed for them to gain confidence in 1.2

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