So you’re a computer manager who wants to work with this Java stuff. You like the idea that you can develop once and deploy on many platforms; your organization is interested in building its own intranet; and the intellectual curiosity that made you take all those computer science courses back in school is maybe needing […]
So you’re a computer manager who wants to work with this Java stuff. You like the idea that you can develop once and deploy on many platforms; your organization is interested in building its own intranet; and the intellectual curiosity that made you take all those computer science courses back in school is maybe needing a scratch too. Imagine your surprise when you hear that a Java applet, on its own, cannot do any of the following: find, open, or save a file; send a document to a printer or a fax; talk to a database; or access directory services. Java currently lacks critical functionality required by even basic applications, such as writing files to remote disks and accessing remote printers, warns Michael Goulde, the authority on all things to do with the Web at publishers Seybold Publishing Inc.
By Gary Flood
Do you hurl your CD-ROM of Java For Dolts across the room, and swear never to read another computer magazine again (again)? The solution need not be so drastic. When Herb Rush, founder of SNA to TCP/IP connectivity software company Brixton Systems Inc, sat down to play with Java and found the same thing, he did the obvious: started a company to develop all that stuff for it. In other words, make Java classes that do the mundane, but frighteningly-easy-to-assume-they’re-there, things that the systems we used to call Network Operating Systems did. Or maybe they didn’t: NetWare and LAN Manager have been referred to as Network Operating Systems, when in fact, they are nothing of the sort… it would be more accurate to call these products network Redirectors, since that is all they really do, adds Goulde. Java developers may shrug their shoulders at such a prehistoric question, instead of wanting to find out more about what Rush, as well as colleagues from BBN Corp, Open Market Inc, Applix Inc and Sun Microsystems Inc, came up with to solve their current operating system need, as in, not having one. And it is indeed an EPIC: Enterprise Computing Platform for Internet Computing. This is the product Corel signed up for last November to make sure its forthcoming Corel Office for Java suite is able to find files on intranet servers, a huge boost to Rush’s company, Novera Software Inc, based in Burlington, Massachusetts. Novera is now up to 30 members of staff and is working through its first round of venture capital from firms including Charles River Ventures and Matrix Partners. EPIC 1.0 is still not in commercial release – or revenue release as Novera’s director of business development Richard Reichgut, a Sun refugee, put it – though a pre-release version has been available from its Web site since last December. This first release it will charge for, due in March – a slip from earlier reports of February – is a set of Java classes that provide a set of application and management services that will run on any Java Virtual Machine. Is it middleware, systems management, a set of application programming interfaces, or CORBA-style object communication? None of the above, counters Reichgut: We know no-one else is working in this space. If anyone’s, this was Novell’s space. That may still be a stretch, he adds, asking rhetorically Did anyone ever develop for NetWare? EPIC is essentially a network operating system written for the intranet entirely in Java, says Reichgut. If you feel your new Java applications might occasionally need to be managed in real time, be they servers or applets, do file and print directory things, integrate to legacy systems through TCP/IP relay, then EPIC may be useful. And if you as a computer manager would like to know you can have management services like reporting and logging, capacity planning, centralized license control, again, EPIC may be worth a look. Another interesting facility is DB Blend, an add-on that will allow corporate databases to be represented to developers as Java classes, says Reichgut. According to Rush, EPIC will allow companies to realize the tremendous business potential of Java, and to see dramatically lowered costs of ownership. Whenever or wherever you fire up your client, the profile and services and applications that you are entitled to come down the wire, adds Reichgut. Like many a good idea it seems staggeringly obvious when you get it, prompting the question: How useful would a Network Computer be if it were not able to do all this from the start? Reichgut and Novera kind of slide around that question, merely indicating that it is a factor in all the world-is-waiting-to-see-if-it-works Java rollouts being carried out at some of those Java poster boy sites like international florists FTD Inc. By which we think that Novera would like to become the Novell Inc of Java as quickly as possible, but its youth – it was only founded in October 1995 – and also the lack of publicly declared alliances, aside from that with Corel Corp, makes that smack of hubris this early in the game.
Fuzzy public relations
Actually, as big a problem has been the company’s fuzzy public relations: hence the confusion about whether it is in some way competing with CORBA, or Marimba Inc, or what have you. The chief executive of Marimba, Kim Polese, has publicly declared the two company’s products complementary, not competitive. The firm is actively recruiting a vice president of marketing. Having that posting may not be too grim, especially if the appointed individual can persuade the relevant network computer players to see the benefits of Novera’s offering. Even Microsoft Corp shouldn’t be ignoring them: EPIC can talk ActiveX through an adapter. Maybe it’s still safe to load up the CD-ROM and try to get that Hello World program compiled by lunch.