The Java Jig

Every year America celebrates its Independence Day on July 4. In the year 1997, the day had an added commemorative attraction, especially for NASA: July 4, 1997 was the day when the research organization’s Pathfinder spacecraft landed on Mars, carrying a microwave-oven-sized robot, Sojourner Rover. It was the first vehicle to drive on the surface of the planet-without a human driver.

The day also affirmed the ‘weird’ vision of an iconoclastic company, Sun Microsystems Inc-The Network is the Computer-by using its programming language for the internet age. The language was used to remotely control Rover from the earth. Meet Java, the once-about-to-be-given-up project by Sun’s maverick software whiz kids, who wanted to use the code-at that time called Oak-to make television a two-way interactive experience.

Java has seen uncountable cups of coffee being spilled over its own fate. But finally, it seems to have come to a stage where it is defining Sun Microsystem’s fate, and, to a large extent, Sun’s own source of brilliance from where it is deriving life-giving energy. Last year, Sun earned $130 million just from licensing the Java software. Reaching Java into more and more computer systems across the world would only add to the company’s burgeoning sales of servers, workstations and, of course, JavaStations-the stripped-down desktops with their own computing power but which use applications sitting on the server.

While the Sojourner’s stint on Mars was nothing much more than symbolic of the power of Java, the technology is fast maturing to encompass a large number of applications that have the potential to change the everyday lives of people back on Earth. How, you ask? By enabling a whole array of appliances-from computers and set-top boxes to washing machines and refrigerators-to work intelligently for you.

Even though that may look slightly futuristic, the technology is in place and is being increasingly deployed by consumer electronics companies, game makers, telecom giants and other information appliance providers of the networked world of today and tomorrow. Closer still, enterprises across the world are cobbling together information systems that do away with bloated personal computers-“hairballs” as Sun CEO Scott McNealy calls them-and use Java software to fetch applications for the clients from the servers. The recent AOL-Netscape deal, for instance, is all set to give a fillip to the move toward browser-based computing. Even sans the network computer, Java has the potential, what with its ‘Write once, run anywhere’ promise, to change the face of computing by resolving the portability issue among sundry software and hardware platforms.

All this fairytale scenario, however, requires a lot of work on the development and deployment fronts. Never mind that. With support from a bevy of IT industry heavyweights like IBM and Oracle, Java is continuing its journey toward ever-spreading acceptability. According to industry estimates, about 9,00,000 programmers worldwide are working on the Java language, creating programs that can do anything from providing fancy web-surfing capabilities to helping corporates make better decisions through data mining. And India, with its vast software resources, is at the threshold of becoming a vital nerve center for Java development.

The Java route
The internet is the next big thing, and Java is there all over. “The analogy here is to that of a railway track. If Cisco makes the railway tracks, we make the little wagons that go on it,” explains S Rajeev, Director, Java and Strategic Alliances, Sun Microsystems India. “Broadly speaking, Java is going into three major directions: devices, portals and outsourcing,” he adds. And these are the areas where he sees a great opportunity for India, too.

Java in devices is what the whizkids and the computer novices alike are kicked up about. Imagine a day when internet access would be as simple as the telephone. Just hear the ‘webtone’ and get hooked on to the net! Also, Java is getting into almost all home appliances and devices, to make them more intelligent and work without much human intervention.

Portals, again, would transform the way work is done. Companies in the US are already operating on what is called the ‘virtual enterprise’ model. Andersen Consulting, a leading consulting firm in the US, operates from a single room, for all its employees are busy at the clients’ sites and `computing to their workplace,’ rather than `commuting.’ And there are obvious benefits of using this technology as a US bank observed. While each customer walking into the bank cost the bank $5, telebanking cost it $1 and online transaction just $0.05. Reason enough why everyone is taking to setting up compelling portals, kind of doors on the web that lead the ‘customers’ into a world of selling opportunities. As an enabling technology, Java has a lot of potential there.

‘Java in India’ program
To start with, Sun entered the country with its liaison office, now a subsidiary, in Bangalore in 1995. “In a strategic sense, India is perhaps the second most important country (next to the US) for Sun and Java, for India has made its mark as a King in software in the global scenario,” explains Bhaskar Pramanik, MD, Sun Microsystems India. And therefore, there is a strong push for Java in India. The company kicked off the ‘Java in India’ program last year with a focus on building Java expertise in the country. “A structured program aimed at providing total commitment to Java in the country, the `Java in India’ program focuses on training, establishing Centers of Excellence, customers and the Java Developer Program,” says Pramanik.

“The company’s structure in India is in sync with the Java in India program to help evangelize Java,” says Anand Halbe, Director (Marketing). Broadly classified under four segments, namely, Computer Services, Enterprise Services, Sun Educational Services and Independent Software Vendors, the structure takes care of all the aspects of Java-the hardware, software, support services and developer community.

With an attempt to develop a strong resource pool of Java-skilled professionals in the country, training is the most critical component of the program. As part of this direction, Sun India is setting up two parallel streams of training: through the Authorized Java Training Centers franchised by Sun Education Services, and through the franchised training offered by Competency Center for Java (India). The latter, CCJI, is a collaborative effort of the Department of Electronics, CMC Ltd, NASSCOM and Sun India. Located at Hyderabad, it is claimed to be the hub of Java centers in India.

The Authorized Java Training Centers (AJTCs), franchised by Sun Education Services, cater to the corporate market to offer courses in Java programming, Java programming workshop, implementation of Java security, web publishing with Java Scripts and Java Applets, and object-oriented design and analysis with Java. Companies such as BITECH and Boston’s Computer Institute are some examples of AJTCs in the country. “We are also gearing up the students for the Sun Java Certification examination,” says Apurva Shah, MD, Boston’s Computer Institute.

Centers of Excellence
Sun India has been establishing Centers of Excellence in the country through strategic partnerships. India’s first Competency Center for Java (India), located in Hyderabad, marks the beginning of such initiatives. The LG Software India Authorized Java Center (AJC) for real-time/embedded systems in digital televisions and the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ center for Java-enabling ERP solutions are two other successful examples of the AJCs in the country.

As part of its focus on customers, Sun India has identified vertical segment areas where it is partnering with Indian software companies for work on Java. The Tata Infotech tie-up for ecommerce and enterprise applications and the Infosys tie-up for the banking industry, demonstrated in its Concept Center-a virtual bank that gives a walk-through into future enterprise banking-are examples in this direction. Sun India has also included this effort as part of ‘success stories,’ aimed to create the awareness of use of Java worldwide.

Sun India, which had been supporting Indian developers through its SunSite program in collaboration with IISc and other online programs, is to shortly unveil the Global Java Developer Program, to extend full support and commitment to Indian developers. This program, to be launched by February end this year, will enable developers to get information access, support essentials and technical support. A Sun Engineering Center has also been set up recently in Bangalore, which will, in addition to working on application development, outsource projects to third parties.

E-governance
In addition to these initiatives, Sun India is concentrating on the government sector, much like Singapore, where Sun has collaborated with the National Computer Board. “We have been in talks with the state governments in South India, to start with, and we are confident of seeing E-governance happen with Java,” says a confident Rajeev. The CCJI in Hyderabad, for instance, has just completed the pilot prototype of a freight management system for the Indian Railways. “The idea is to have Java-embedded devices in each goods yard, to help track the freight movement,” explains Rajeev. CCJI has also developed the pilot for The Twin City project, which involves building information kiosks for information access and payment transactions. “This could enable citizens to have direct access to information about the state and help clear payment transactions such as commercial taxes and electricity bills through the kiosks,” adds Rajeev.

Partnership programs
In addition, Sun India also works with its global partners in India, for promoting Java in the country. Last year, Sun and IBM, announced several India-specific initiatives for Java-thanks to the presence of quality software professionals in the country. “One of our major steps for the country include localization of Java. We will work with Indian companies and developers on Hindi versions of IBM JavaOS for business, IBM JavaBeans,
Lotus eSuite and Lotus Notes/Domino,” says Vanit Arora, Sr Business Manager, Software Division, Tata IBM. The Indian language support in the Java Development Kit is expected to be ready by the first half of 1999.

“Yet another focus area would be to expand the development and use of e-business solutions in India and advance open standards for network computing,” Arora adds. IBM believes that the 100% Pure Java strategy and its e-business plans will enhance India’s ability to meet its IT objectives. This has resulted in setting up of a Solution Partnership Center in Bangalore that provides porting and tuning assistance for ISVs and
assists in optimizing benchmarking activities.

IBM’s San Francisco
IBM announced its San Francisco Frameworks Project, a comprehensive collection of Java-based business application components, in the country last year. This is one of IBM’s most ambitious Java initiatives, with over 600 companies in the world having licensed it, because it is believed to provide approximately 40% of the code needed to build enterprise-ready business applications. An IBM San Francisco Competency Center has also been set up in Bangalore, with about 40 software houses in the country joining with IBM for component/JavaBeans development. Additional developer support programs include IBM Developer Connection, IBM VisualAge Developer Domain Subscription for Java, IBM Solution Developer Program, Jcentral, and Jstart-a Java ‘early adopters’ program that will assist software developers in building enterprise solutions.

On the training front, too, IBM has included educational offerings that cover basic and advanced Java training courses and certification that will be available in cities throughout India. The Java-in-Schools Program assists university professors in creating Java curriculum as well as train students and IT professionals in Java application development. Tata IBM also proposes to create Java Competency Centers in several organizations in the country. “In the future, we would develop tools for Java 2, the latest version of Java,” adds Arora.

Oracle’s support
In the recently-held Oracle OpenWorld in New Delhi, the company announced some of Oracle’s plans for Java in the country. Muthu Nedumaran, Director, Product Sales, Oracle Corp, lists out a few initiatives of the company. “We have identified some areas where we will focus on Java. These include providing Java in a server suite, tools to take advantage of the technology, optimization of Java for mission-critical enterprise-class applications, and to enable business applications.”

Joining him is William H Dwight, VP, Java Tools (Java Product Division) at Oracle Corp, “The most important development is the recently-introduced Oracle8i in that it introduces additional support for Java by including a Java Virtual Machine. JVM in the Oracle database enables developers to write, store and execute Java code within the database.”

Java is for real
Do all these things happening all over make Java a hype? Definitely not. Says Infosys Technologies’ CEO Nandan Nilekani, “Increasingly, more and more companies are showing interest in Java. Java is getting more robust, fast and secure, and, with this recognition, all companies are getting prepared to work with it.” Infosys has about 100 employees working on Java-related areas in building ecommerce applications, banking and financial solutions and projects for clients in the country and abroad. The company has Java-enabled its Banking products-Bankaway and Banks2000-and is working on ecommerce applications for Copeland, part of Citi Corp.

The sheer interest and fascination for Java has led to several start-up companies in India with an exclusive focus on Java. “I distinctly remember the first Applet that graphically depicted the performance of various popular sorting algorithms in the alpha version of HotJava [a web browser written completely in Java]. Hardly recovering from the jolt of seeing actual animations on a web page, I then saw the code that produced the Applet. That literally changed my life,” says Apurva. For, soon after, he set up Boston’s Computer Institute in collaboration with Sun for imparting authorized Java training. The company is also engaged in web-related application development and Java programming. A similar experience is shared by Parameshwar Babu of PPP India, a company developing Java-based products for the internet. A freak visit to a site containing information on Java got him hooked on to the technology, and despite doubts, he started working feverishly on developing his first email-sharing software called PPPShar.
Another company, SIP Technologies (SIPtech), has been working closely with JavaSoft, a division of Sun Microsystems, on the development of the recently launched Java 2. SIPtech is also a key player in offering certification of testing for all Java components worldwide. “We are now involved in the development of Java 2.1. In future, we would move upstream in technology and would want to tie up with Sun as a licensee for product development,” says KC Sukumar, MD, SIPtech.

India is part of the information appliance movement, too. The global tie-up of LG and Sun has resulted in LG Software India (LGSI), a software center at Bangalore that will develop Java competencies in embedded/real-time systems and ecommerce. As an LG affiliate, LGSI would develop expertise in the usage of Java in information appliances. “LGSI has provided some important upgrades to the HotJava browser for use in the network computer made by LG. And presently, we are involved in writing Java-based applications for LG’s digital television,” says Raj Karnad, Group Manager, Java Concept Center, LGSI. On Sun’s part, the company has an attractive offering, a special card. “We have just launched the Sun.Net-a pager-like product which is a URL and ID Card rolled into one. This enables Sun staff members access to Sun’s web site, email and intranet from across the globe, in a secure way,” says Bhaskar. And the company plans to market this product to corporates in India shortly. Do you hear the beep coming?

AKILA S in Chennai,
with N SAILAJA in Hyderabad,
and ALOKANANDA GHOSH in Calcutta.

Companies Working Extensively On Java
PPP India
Plans Proposals & Projects India, a company started by three computer novices in Chennai, has four products to its credit today-all of which have been developed on 100% pure Java. Work on developing PPPShar, an internet TCP/IP sharing software across a local area network using a single modem, began in 1996. Recalls Parameshwar Babu, Consultant, R&D, “Scalability, relatively faster development time, multi-threading capabilities and object-oriented features were convincing enough about the suitability of the language for network programming and I started development of PPPShar on Java. But there was a fear deep within that this technology may let me down.”

Of course, it didn’t. Today, riding on the success of PPPShar, the company has three other products developed on Java-Net MailShar, an email sharing software across a LAN; Getagain, a software that resumes interrupted file downloads; and Netcop, a net access control and monitoring software. The products, which are available on the web, have been installed in 300 locations in different parts of the world.

Pramati Technologies
Impressed with the features of Java technology, Vijay Prasanna started Pramati Technologies in Hyderabad with the objective of building up enterprise-level applications on Java. The company has developed Proton, a 100% pure Java web application server. It enables developers to build applications without worrying about the many hassles of making it work on the web. Proton, built on Java standards like JDBC, JNDI, Servlet etc, provides an integrated development environment called ProStudio for designing, developing, testing and deploying web applications.

In addition to this product, Pramati has worked on web-enabling IBM mainframe applications. Pramati implemented TN3270 protocol and provided ISA terminal emulation on the browser. Apart from several enhancements to the server, Pramati is undertaking certain strategic development initiatives. These include HTML support, Enterprise JavaBeans and Distributed Knowledge Management. The company’s future direction is to build a technology powerhouse offering total web solutions based on Java.

QuantumLink Communications

For Sharad Popli, MD, QuantumLink Communications, the rationale behind starting a Java company was quite simple. Java’s philosophy of ‘Write once, run anywhere’ meant that a single distribution should run on all platforms that support the Java Virtual Machine. “The net itself is composed of millions of heterogeneous networks, each of which may be running a mix-and-match of systems. The idea, therefore, was to have a product written in Java to address all the target segments at one go.”

With services ranging from ISP consultancy, commercial Linux support to intranets, this Mumbai-based company has developed two products, PostMaster and Surf. PostMaster is a mail server software that gives unlimited personal email IDs over a single internet account, facilitating activities such as virtual accounts, tracking of the ISP usage time, automatic responses etc. PostMaster is the first Indian product to receive the 100% pure Java certification from Sun Microsystems. Surf, on the other hand, is a web proxy allowing multiple users to surf the web over a single line.

Institute for Financial Management
and Research

IFMR, sponsored by ICICI jointly with the Kotharis, offers consultancy for various IT organizations and develops web-based applications for its clients. The company took it upon itself to facilitate access to information just with the help of browsers. “Typically, in developing applications on Java, the Java Applet Viewer was required. The Applet Viewer would not support the browser, and users wanted only the browser as the front-end,” explains G Balasubramanian, Associate Professor at the institute.

The institute found that the Java Servlet served as a solution to this problem as it could act as an intermediary between the database and the client. The clients’ HTML requests and the outputs from the database are coordinated by Servlets through JDBC connectivity. Using the same model, the institute is trying to use the Servlet in the library for access of information across its intranet and for ecommerce applications in future. The institute is also using the Java Enterprise Solutions for networking of large companies having offices in several locations.

LG Soft India
Bangalore-based LG Soft India (LGSI), an Authorized Java Center (AJC) and an affiliate of LG, is focused on two core Java application areas: Java in embedded/real-time systems and Java in ecommerce. LGSI develops expertise in the usage of Java in information appliances such as NCs, mobile computers and home automation systems.

The primary objective is to provide a proof-of-concept showcasing capability in the successful exploitation of Java in the AJC designated areas. “It is envisaged that progressively, the LGSI AJC capabilities would be enhanced to provide expertise in Java architecture design, migration strategies and design and development of Java-centric applications. Eventually, this would evolve into a competency center that would address multifarious activities like technical consultancy and product development,” explains Rajgopal Karnad, Group Manager, Java Concept Center at LGSI. LGSI, which has a present staff strength of 150 employees, is currently writing Java-based applications for LG’s digital television.

Centers of Excellence
Competency Center For Java (India)
CCJI is the first of its kind Java center in the country located in Hyderabad and is part of Sun’s Centers of Excellence worldwide initiative. A national resource and R&D center, CCJI has been set up jointly by the Department of Electronics, Sun Microsystems India, CMC Ltd and NASSCOM to spearhead the development of Java innovation in India. The twin objectives of the center are to provide consultancy in projects of national importance and to help generate trained manpower in Java. The center will provide Java-based network computing solutions to various industries, especially in internet and related areas.

The center will offer franchised training courses and materials, with overall guidance and support from DoE, industry participation and inputs from NASSCOM, and technology and business development support from Sun. It will offer consultancy on application projects, application development in the government sector and help in localization to enable its use on computers in several Indian languages.

SIPtech’s Java Technology Center
SIP Technologies Export Ltd (SIPtech) has set up a Java technology development and testing facility in India for Sun’s JavaSoft business unit. The company’s Center of Excellence, located in Chennai, works closely with JavaSoft for assimilation and consolidation of technology and for leveraging it with the Indian strength of qualified software professionals.
SIPtech offers solutions in two areas, namely, software development services, and engineering application services. With offices in the USA and Singapore, SIPtech provides solutions with a combination of onsite and offshore models. The software development services are built around the competency areas such as Java technology components, including desktop and enterprise components and APIs; object-oriented technology; middleware testing and deployment; and databases.

SIPtech’s competency domain can be classified into technology and application architecture areas. In the technology area, the company is at the middleware level, providing development testing and deployment services for APIs, technology components, tools and utilities built on Java platform. Test suites for functionality, Java compatibility and pure Java certification are other core areas. In the applications area, SIPtech offers onsite and offshore requirement services to JavaSoft.

The company was involved in the development of the recently launched Java 2 in its capacity as a contractor with JavaSoft. In the future, the company hopes to tie up with JavaSoft as one of its licensees/ISVs for product development, apart from vertical segment application development and consultancy services.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Technology Center
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in alliance with Sun India has set up an Authorized Java Competency Center at Saltlec, Calcutta.

PwC’s objective is to leverage the power of the Java paradigm to deliver effective business solutions in areas like supply chain management and marketing and customer management. The center offers consultancy and customized solutions using Sun’s innovative network computing technologies. It also uses Java technology to build business-to-business and business-to-customer solutions for vertical segments such as manufacturing.

Spread across 55,000 sq ft space, the center functions as a one-stop source for multi-vendor solutions for packages such as SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Baan. The center provides solutions in areas of web technology, multimedia, ERP, data warehousing, groupware, workflow, and customized and leveraged solutions for Indian and overseas clients. The Oracle Center of Excellence (COE) at the Technology Center serves as a hub for the development of industry specific solutions. PwC has already launched Empower, an ERP solution for the power industry, and Oracle CPG, an enterprise solution for the consumer packaged goods industry, with the front end Java-enabled.

A Genie Up Sun’s Sleeve

Sun’s latest offering, Jini, is a revolutionary distributed programming framework using which applications and devices can simply be plugged into the network and accessed from other machines without any configuration or installation of drivers. In other words, Jini technology provides simple mechanism that enables computers and devices to plug together to quickly form impromptu, networked communities assembled without planning, installation or human intervention.

To form a dynamic community, devices and services register with a look-up service. When a device is plugged into a network, the device locates the look-up service (called discovery) where it uploads all of its services’ interfaces (called joining). The look-up service also acts as a switchboard to connect a client looking for a service with that service. When a person or program uses the look-up service to locate a registered service, the interface of the requested service is copied to the device where it will be used.

With Jini technology, devices such as TVs, DVDs, cameras, radios, furnaces, printers, pagers etc can self-install, self-organize, self-configure and self-diagnose in a network.

Understanding Java


Explanations to a few frequently used terms in the context of Java technology.

Java Applet: Applet is like any Java application program except that the code is retrieved from the server where it is stored and executed by the Java runtime that is part of today’s Java-enabled browsers. Applet is useful when the need is to run the program on a large number of various client hardware. For example, an applet can run a program to show statement of accounts online for a bank customer who is allowed to access the server from anywhere across the globe.

JavaBeans: JavaBeans is the platform-neutral component architecture for the Java application environment. It’s the ideal choice for developing or assembling network-aware solutions for heterogeneous hardware and operating system environments-within the enterprise or across the internet. For example, a button on the screen can be developed as a JavaBean for use by any application developer. So a JavaBean can be like a portable container deployable across a network that uses proprietary platforms. JavaBeans components interoperate with other component models such as ActiveX.

Java Virtual Machine: A Java Virtual Machine is a layer of software embedded in, or running on top of, operating systems such as Windows, Macintosh or Unix, that enables the computer to run Java applications.
Hotspot: Hotspot is an adaptive compiler technology that optimizes Java programs while they run, thereby increasing the performance of selected ‘hot spots’ of the program. It is expected that performance problems of Java will be solved considerably with the Hotspot technology.

San Francisco: San Francisco is a framework of business objects that can be used to build business-centric applications. It is an extensive set of Java-based server-side business process components designed to build mission-critical applications such as general ledgers, order processing, inventory management and product distribution.

 



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