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Java: The Unrealized Future- by Scott E. Regener

When IBM first announced native support of Java for the OS/2 Desktop, it was hailed as the beginning of true application availability for OS/2 users. As more and more developers began writing their applications in Java, those programs would immediately be available for the OS/2 community as well. Since Warp 4 shipped in September, Java's popularity has done nothing but climb. But as any OS/2 user will tell you, the hype has to live up to the product -- and Java is one case where this hasn't happened.


The key problem isn't with applets, those Java programs designed to run within an HTML document (even if the applet is the only content in the HTML document). Even games like Sailor Moon and Yahtzee run fine in OS/2, if provided the necessary horsepower. The real problem is with applications, Java programs designed and compiled to run without a browser's assistance.

OS/2 runs Java applications natively. If you compile a special version of the Linux kernel, Linux will run native Java applications. If Windows 97 delivers on its promise to create a "browser-based" desktop it will also run Java applications without a browser. For most other operating systems, running Java applications in a virtual machine is more dream than reality.

In the meantime, Java developers have been forced to use nonstandard application loaders to support Java applications on "mainstream" OSs. It is the addition of these non-Java loaders that makes those Java applications incompatible with OS/2. The "virtual machine" environment Java programs run in is an integral part of the Java Developer's Kit (JDK). It is not, however, an integral part of any PC OS, except OS/2.

Recently, Corel announced that they're building a new Office suite for Java, and one of their key goals is OS/2 Java compatibility. This shouldn't be overly surprising since OS/2 has the best Java performance at this point. Just as developers use the latest and greatest hardware for demonstrations, Corel knows OS/2 is their best bet for demonstrating dazzling speed and reliability. (No one wants to be faced with a GPF or application error in the middle of a demonstration.)

A recent PC Magazine article on Internet content agents featured several PointCast-type services. Most were written for specific operating systems, taking advantage of screen-saver APIs. There was one, however, that was supposedly written in Java, to take advantage a larger user base. It is called Castanet. A quick visit to the web site, however, informs users that while the content may be in Java, the application is only supported for specific OSs. While versions have been "ported" to various platforms, it begs the question, whatever happened to the operating system independence Java is supposed to offer?

Castanet is not the only application in this state, either. While versions can be compiled for several OSs, this wasn't Sun's goal when they created Java. If recompiling and tweaking of code is necessary for true Java compatibility, why not write the applications in C or C++?


Until someone releases a full-featured Java IDE for OS/2, Java development is strapped to the command line. Rumors of Visual Age for Java abound, but the real product isn't here yet. Even Sun's IDE for Java, Workshop, is written in Java, but it isn't supported for OS/2. How can IBM truly claim Java supremacy without a single development tool?

The real problem with Java on OS/2 is the same problem OS/2 users have had since day one: developer indifference. Time and time again, the computer industry has made excuses for ignoring OS/2.

No More Excuses!

Java runs better on OS/2 than any other OS. Java runs faster on OS/2 than any other OS. Java is embraced by IBM more than by any other OS developer (except Sun). Even so, the Java revolution is lagging behind the forward-thinking IBM strategy.

For years OS/2 users have complained about IBM's marketing. Now IBM is finally getting serious about pushing an open platform concept. Open your e-mail program and write those developers to let them know you do too. How many Java converts can Sun ignore before it supports its IDE on every Java platform?

Open32 makes porting Windows 95 and NT applications to OS/2 easy. The JDK makes porting irrelevant. Existing Java code simply works, without modification. Now. It's about time to tell the world that OS/2 users are tired of waiting for the world to catch up. There are no more excuses.

Scott E. Regener, while not supporting OS/2 in a client-server environment during working hours, enjoys programming, writing (fiction and nonfiction), chess, reading and astronomy.

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