By _Jeremy Carl_
In rallying to defend its trademark on the name Java, Sun Microsystems Inc.
has demonstrated it will go to great lengths to protect its stronghold on
Java. But the company will have to contend with two potential threats from
) The first is the emergence of "Java-compatible" environments
reverse-engineered by companies that have not signed licensing agreements with
Sun, and therefore are not accountable to Sun's compatibility standards. The
second threat comes from Java products that fail to deliver platform-neutral
) Last month, Sun set off a controversy when its legal department
corresponded with more than 150 sites with the word "Java" in their names,
warning them they were infringing on the Java trademark. In the process, the
campaign mistakenly targeted some sites that were unrelated to computing.
) Reaction was swift and unfavorable, and _JavaSoft_ president Alan Baratz
soon drafted an open letter to the developer community that was posted
prominently on the JavaSoft Web site.
) In his letter, Baratz said that Sun's intention was to protect the entire
concept of Java by protecting its name. "It is in the interest of the
community at large, not just Sun's, to preserve the Java trademark," he wrote.
"If we allow the Java name to be associated with multiple incompatible
versions, then our principal tenet--to 'Write Once, Run Anywhere,' is
) Ivan Phillips, editor of the Java Performance Report, said that while he
believed Baratz and Sun were motivated largely by self-interest, the
underlying issues of compatibility that Baratz referred to were serious ones
for the Java community.
) For example, Java applets that could only run using powerful hardware or
proprietary software could seriously weaken the language's appeal, Phillips
said. "If you have more processing power, people are going to use it to
improve the [user interface] or do better multimedia, no matter what Sun
says," he said.
) But while a number of industry analysts agreed that Java performance was
not hugely affected by current hardware and software standards, compatibility
already is showing signs of strain. Several suggested Netscape and Microsoft
are likely candidates for appropriating Java technology for proprietary gain.
) "Microsoft will spend next year building up a compelling reason why
interaction with their products is strategic for Java," said Donald DePalma, a
senior software analyst at Forrester Research. "Microsoft will be going off
in the future and developing WinJava."
) DePalma added that hardware vendors may want to put their stamp on a
specific Java call, or Intel Corp. might make a slimmed-down Pentium running
only Java, creating what he called "Javatel."
Another potential danger to standards-based Java are "clean-room"
implementations of the Java virtual machine (VM) by programmers who have not
signed licensing agreements with Sun. These developers are reverse-engineering
the Java environment to develop their own branded "Java-compatible" systems.
By choosing not to license Sun's VM, they need not be held accountable to
Sun's standards for compatibility.
) DePalma said these implementations could potentially deliver much better
performance than the current VM, but they risk bringing Java into a standards
war similar to the one that has plagued the Unix community.
) One company that has developed its own non-licensed VM is Visix, whose Java
development environment, Eleven, is due to ship in the fourth quarter. "The
functionality in the current VM is not sufficient to build business
applications," said Barry Libenson, vice president of business development at
Visix, explaining why the company developed its own Java-like environment.
) According to Libenson, Visix overhauled Java's user-interface design
capabilities in its version. He noted that several other companies, including
Natural Intelligence and Asymetrix, also are working on their own proprietary
non-licensed versions of the Java VM.
) Already, the company is well on its way to releasing proprietary extensions
for its Java-like environment. Because Visix uses functions not available in
the standard VM, the company is building its own just-in-time (JIT)
compiler--a program that translates raw Java bytecode into platform-specific
machine code on the fly--to leverage its optimizations fully.
) Libenson said the cost of licensing Sun's VM was only a minor factor in
Visix's decision to chart its own course. He added that proprietary extensions
to Java are almost inevitable. "If Sun doesn't do something to improve the
base technology soon, proprietary extensions are going to happen," he said.
And he said that others will soon be jumping on the bandwagon. "Because there
is not much functionality in the VM, re-implementing it in a clean room was
not all that challenging," Libenson said.
) Indeed, compatibility issues already have cropped up regarding two new
non-commercial Java-based Web servers that some say aren't delivering all of
the cross-platform performance they promise.
) Several Macintosh users of JavaHTTPD (developed by Daniel Ockeloen of
Hilversum, the Netherlands) and Cascade (from David Wilkinson of Coventry,
England) have reported problems because of certain underlying assumptions
these servers make about the OS architecture that do not hold true on the Mac.
) Anselm Baird-Smith, who developed the Java-based Jigsaw server for the
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), said it is likely that these servers had used
slightly non-standard implementations of Java, thereby creating problems.
) For example, the manner in which the servers convert URLs to file names
could lead to problems in a multi-OS environment, according to Baird-Smith.
"Anyone who is not developing standards-compliant products for the Web is
going to be in trouble in the long run," he said.
) Baird-Smith said he developed the Jigsaw server in little more than a year
using early Java technology. Today, that development time would have been even
) "I've never touched a Mac in my life, and Jigsaw runs on Mac. I think that
this is pretty cool--I'd hate to see it go away," Baird-Smith said. He
estimated that to perform the equivalent cross-platform development in C would
have required five years.
) But despite the testimonials of those like Baird-Smith, most think that
keeping Java "pure" will be difficult, if not impossible. And while Sun and
Baratz are taking strong legal steps to protect Java, Forrester's DePalma
cited recent case histories that suggest the courts are not a time- or
cost-effective way for Sun to resolve such disputes.
) "Realistically, the best remedy they have is extraordinarily fast movement
on their part," he said. "They need to do something that has never been done
before in all mankind, and that is to create a software consortium that works.
It will be a real fun next six months."