By Nick Patience of Online Reporter
The recent news that Patriot Scientific Corp decided to go for a clean room implementation of the Java operating system implemented by NetWise Distribution Inc, rather than JavaSoft Inc’s original JavaOS (CI No 3,086) has highlighted a problem that JavaSoft may run up against again and again if it wishes to seriously penetrate the embedded systems markets for consumer electronics goods. Patriot cited cost as the main reason for choosing NetWise over JavaOS, but cost isn’t everything, especially in the embedded business, where size counts as well. If Sun Microsystems Inc chief executive Scott McNealy’s vision is to succeed – Java running in telephones, printers and everything mobile – then these problems clearly need to be addressed.
Large or small?
According to Javasoft’s competitors, companies wishing to license Java are faced with having to squeeze the Java virtual machine, base language classes, the AWT Abstract Windows Toolkit and Motif and X display software, which take up between 5.5Mb and 6.5Mb RAM – plus an operating system – all on to a single chip. In the embedded market such things need to be in between about 50Kb and 200Kb. Integrated Systems Inc is one embedded systems company that is grappling with this problem, integrating Java with its pSOS real-time operating system by writing a set of application programming interfaces. Vice president of marketing Greg Olsen said the virtual machine and classes take up about 600K, with the AWT toolkit occupying the same amount of space. The Motif and X elements are the main problem, they apparently take up about 2Mb to 4Mb RAM between them. The problem with this is that it’s not possible to pick and choose which bits are required: they are all necessary to maintain the integrity of a Java license. Sun appears to recognize the problem, and is forming a consortium of embedded software and hardware companies to address the problem. Integrated Systems, based in Sunnyvale, California, will be one of the members. As if to emphasize what we’ve been hearing, NetWise Distribution apparently got a call from none other than Sun Microelectronics following the press release about its Patriot deal asking about licensing its JPlusVM and JPlusOS for its picoJava and microJava Java chip family. NetWise president Donald Davies admitted we did not expect the Sun enquiry. What makes Netwise JPlusOS and JPlusVM different, says Davies is the added device drivers in JPlusVM and its patent-pending garbage collection. He said JPlusVM is a superset of Sun’s Java virtual machine, and is entirely backwards compatible with it. Native calls from JPlusVM will look the same to the Java virtual machine, and Sun and NetWise are likely to discuss Java device driver compatibility when they meet. The JPlusOS is built on top of a Mach-style kernel with threading to support Java virtual machine device drivers written for JPlusOS. The JPlusVM is compatible with the JDK Java Development Kit 1.0.2 application programming interfaces and will fully support JDK 1.1 within a quarter of its release, which would be by March, as JavaSoft released the specification last month. But ultimately, Patriot’s main reason for taking the NetWise offerings was cost, and Davies pointed to NetWise’s faster sliding scale, rather than JavaSoft’s model. NetWise charges $10 for a single license, down to $1 for quantities of 100,000, and to about $0.50 for quantities of 1 million, which is feasible as it’s primarily meant for embedded applications. Some say JavaSoft charges a fixed $5 per license, regardless of quantity, but Olsen of Integrated Systems said $5 is about as cheap as it gets. He said in the embedded world, systems software for chip quantities in the millions should be around 50 cents or less, but he reckoned JavaSoft is still asking for around $3 or $4 dollars at that stage. There’s no way for us to corroborate this with JavaSoft as the company is clammed tight shut on the issue, so we have to go with what everybody else tells us. Davies said NetWise’s deal with Patriot is a pure OEM one, so third parties do not incur any follow-on charges, which Patriot believed was the case with JavaSoft’s royalty scheme; again JavaSoft would not say one way or the other. NetWise was incorporated just eight months ago, and is staffed entirely by engineers and support people, but is looking to set up a marketing outpost in California. It has had an undisclosed amount of first-round funding and is currently organizing the second round. Davies previously worked on compiler and imaging technology at Bell Labs, IBM Corp and AT&T Corp.
JavaSoft Inc’s response to all this is a resounding rebuttal. JavaOS product line manager Curtis Sasaki said I don’t think price is an issue, but JavaSoft will not reveal any pricing details, so it’s impossible to know for sure. As for the size of the operating system, virtual machine and class libraries, Sasaki scoffed at tales of 5Mb to 6Mb. He said the JavaOS kernel is about 60Kb, the virtual machine about another 240Kb, and all the class libraries take up 1.2Mb. The Abstract Windows Toolkit only takes up about 30Kb. Sasaki said that a full network computer implementation, with a browser, classes, fonts, graphics and so on comes to about 3.8Mb. Sasaki didn’t have much to say about the embedded market, other than that real-time operating system companies such as Wind River Systems Inc and Microtec Research Inc have licensed JavaSoft’s stuff, but did say the Java Card applications programming interface is designed to interoperate with 8-bit systems and the like. The real-time operating system companies add the kernel and tools, and JavaSoft brings the Abstract Windows Toolkit, graphics and windowing to the embedded party. Java technology is efficient, small and totally optimized, he said. But we still don’t know how much it costs.