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January 26, 1998

NETSCAPE’S OPENJAVA API MARKS THE END OF ITS JAVA VM EFFORTS

By CBR Staff Writer

Netscape Communications Corp has said it will no longer take responsibility for porting its own Java virtual machine (JVM) to the operating systems its browser supports. It will rely instead on native Java virtual machines from operating systems vendors such as Microsoft Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc and Apple Computer Inc. Netscape says that a San Jose Mercury News story that claimed it was backing away from its commitment to Java, published last weekend, was over-dramatized. It says the move will speed the deployment of Java, while still maintaining the company’s commitment to ‘pure Java.’ Netscape, the first company to license Java from Sun back in 1995, has been faced with porting and updating its Java virtual machine on 17 different operating systems, including the various flavors of Unix, MacOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 – development work it says is redundant now that the operating systems vendors themselves have produced native versions for their own operating systems. The company has introduced a new applications programming interface, OpenJava API, which will enable virtual machines from other vendors to work with its browsers, starting from the forthcoming Communicator 5.0, due by the end of this quarter. It says upgrades and new features will be supported more quickly because of the move. The move leaves the company and its customers open to whatever kinds of JVM the operating systems vendors come up with, but Netscape says it will always ship a JVM that has been certified by Sun’s JavaSoft unit under its certification program. What spurred things along was Netscape’s decision last week to allow developers to modify and re-distribute Communicator 5’s source code (CI No 3,332). We found we didn’t have the rights to re-distribute the source for Java, said a Netscape spokesperson. Developers have pointed out that Netscape’s Java virtual machine was both incompatible with and slower than native virtual machines – its Communicator/Navigator JVM never made it to compatibility with the most current version of Java, the Java Development Kit 1.1 – we had 99% of the things, said the company, it was just the security model that did not comply. Although the move makes economic and strategic sense for Netscape, it means Sun will lose an independent software developer (ISV) for the JVM. However, Netscape points out that it continues to develop the Javagator all-Java browser with Sun Microsystems and IBM Corp, along with server-level Java products from last year’s Kiva Software Corp acquisition, and its Visual JavaScript Java applications builder. But the company wouldn’t comment on the Mercury’s suggestion that Java developers would be among the expected 400 lay-offs due to be detailed today (Tuesday) along with the company’s year-end results. Netscape has already warned that it will post a loss of some $89m for its fourth quarter (CI No 3,319).

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