May 10, 1996 3:00 PM PDT
Java OS to make debut this month
The Java OS, code-named Kona, is the latest maneuver in Sun's unfolding strategy for Java and its first effort to gain a toehold on the software side of network appliances before Microsoft does. Already the company has negotiated deals with traditional OS vendors and browser companies to embed Java in their products and is building microprocessors optimized for running Java applets.
The list of Kona licensees, which is expected be unveiled as early as May 20, could include Oracle, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi, all of which have already licensed the Java programming language and have previously stated their intentions to create consumer devices that run Java applets. Kona may also show up in a variety of embedded systems, according to sources.
At the event, which is yet to be announced, Sun and Oracle will also outline a standard set of specifications that are intended to simplify manufacturing and ensure compatibility by providing a common framework for building Internet devices.
Network appliances--also called network computers, Internet appliances, or Internet terminals--have been touted by companies like Sun, Oracle, and IBM as relatively inexpensive, easy-to-use alternatives to fully loaded PCs that give users Web surfing, email, and simple word-processing capabilities.
Sun's Kona is not expected to be the only operating system that complies with the Sun and Oracle specifications, but it will likely be among the most popular because of the company's success in marketing Java.
Kona dovetails with Sun's efforts to build hardware for network appliances. Last January, the company showed off a protoype network computer based on a SPARC microprocessor and built 300 units for internal testing purposes. In early February, Sun also announced plans to meld Java with silicon by building a set of microprocessors--including the picoJava, microJava, and UltraJava chips.
Although Kona will run on the new Java chips when they are available, it is expected to run on other hardware platforms as well, sources said.
But while a number of leading vendors are flirting with the idea of creating network appliances, many industry observers remain deeply skeptical of the market for the devices, believing that most consumers won't settle for less horsepower and functionality than a PC, even at a lower price.
"I don't believe Internet appliances will become practical for consumers anytime soon," said Josh Bernoff, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "The American dream is still to own a PC. A Windows machine is going to have a lot more capability. I think the potential here is around low-cost computers rather than network appliances."