When I was asked to write an article on why Java is so important, I thought it would be a simple case of getting some specifics about the IBM implementation of the Java VM and then singing the praises of this totally portable solution. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that Java isnt 100 percent cross-platform compatible. And thats not even the worst of it: There is not one widely used Java VM that meets Suns compatibility requirements. As my investigation continued, I was more and more convinced that I had been a victim of all the Java hype. But even so, I found that the future of Java is bright, particularly for the IBM midrange community.
While the highly publicized, totally portable development solution is still in the vaporware stage, companies like Sun, IBM, and Lotus are pushing for more universal cross-compatibility. So even though it isnt there yet, Java shows real promise of becoming a 100 percent cross-compatible solution. Meanwhile, with Lotus eSuite shipping with the NetStation Series 1000 and the upcoming release of JavaOS for Business, I would say that IBM has made its stance regarding Java pretty clear. No surprises there if you consider where the potential markets for Java-based applications are. Java, even in its current form, is well-suited for creating applications for network computers, and, according to IBM and Sun, JavaOS will run any application that is written in 100% Pure Java. IBM and Sun Microsystems are co-developing JavaOS specifically to be the standard operating system for network computers. Built to run on thin clients, which will in turn be connected to (you guessed it) midrange and mainframe servers, JavaOS holds much promise.
What about Java/400? you ask. As of this writing, it is not yet available. But IBM has released the VisualAge for Java AS/400 feature, which provides a group of tools for developing with Java on the AS/400. Called SmartGuides, these tools provide the AS/400 Java developer with some formidable new weapons for their programming arsenal. The 5250-to-AWT Convert SmartGuide will convert DDS display files to Java AWT files, which will speed the development of GUI interfaces. The Remote Program Call SmartGuide allows Java programs to call RPG and COBOL programs. The Export
and Compile SmartGuides enable developers to export Java files to the AS/400 Integrated File System (IFS) and compile them for better performance. Armed with these tools, the AS/400 Java developer is ready to tackle any project (and thats no hype).
In addition to some of the more traditional (can you refer to anything in this industry as traditional?) places you would expect to see Java, there could be some very unconventional implementations. Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) has signed an agreement to use PersonalJava in its digital set-top boxes used for interactive TV. Also, Nokia has made an agreement to use Java in cellular phones. Since the Internet and IP have become viable carriers for phone traffic in recent years, it would not come as much of a surprise to see some of the big names in telecommunications make similar deals to develop specialized calling platforms.
So the initial question remains unanswered: Why is Java so important? Java is important because it has the potential of becoming a 100 percent cross-platform, compatible development tool. But we all knew that. Java is important to the IBM midrange community because it is the language of the Internet and with umpteen million (or is it billion?) dollars in e-commerce predicted for this year, you can be sure there will be plenty of Web-based business applications to develop. Lastly, Java is important because IBM, Lotus, and Sun are committed to making it important (which has always worked for Microsoft in the past).
The other question that looms over many of us is What does it all mean to me? Well, my advice to anyone who is seriously looking at Java as a development tool is this: Get the facts. Java has been so overhyped that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. For those of you who think Java is going to revolutionize the industry overnight and leave you behind, I seriously doubt it. I am inclined to believe that the real impact of Java wont be felt until the dust settles, maybe in a year or two. So, with that in mind, Ill dust off my crystal ball and make a few semieducated predictions.
Prediction 1: The IBM/Sun JavaOS will be successful and will provide the impetus to really launch the NC market.
Prediction 2: As a result of this and the explosive growth in e-commerce, the IBM midrange and mainframe market will also see marked growth.
Prediction 3: The computer industry as a whole will be caught with its pants down by the Year 2000. (At least Im sure to get one right.)