TREND: JAVA SOFTWARE
CSX Corp.'s information systems chief, John Andrews, expected to spend $7 million on software to let customers track packages being transported by the company's shipping unit in Jacksonville, Fla. Instead, for just $1 million, Andrews' staff developed a simpler system using Sun Microsystems Inc.'s hot new Java programming language. To find a package, customers download small programs known as applets from CSX's Web site, then use them to browse a package-tracking database.
Applets are appealing, as Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy loves to point out, because they are easy to distribute across networks and run without modification on any operating system or hardware. ''We have saved over $5 million using Java,'' Andrews estimates.
The software is still too new to earn Sun megabucks in 1997. But pioneers such as CSX, FTD, and Wells Fargo have started building it into their daily operations. Indeed, Java is quickly replacing C++ as the programming language of choice for client-server computing, says Deborah Hess, a senior analyst at Datapro Information Services, a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Java's promoters still face several hurdles. One is the threat of viruses in programs being passed from one computer to another. ''The information systems guys aren't letting this stuff in the door,'' says Deborah Triant, CEO of Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a maker of security firewalls. But advocates argue that applets won't damage computers because they run in a software ''sandbox'' that's isolated from the underlying hardware and software. Flaws notwithstanding, they say, applets are far safer than conventional Windows programs.
Java's other sore point is nonstandard usage. In December, 1996, Sun persuaded about 100 companies, including IBM, Oracle, Novell, and Netscape Communications, to write applications using only a ''pure'' version of Java. But mighty Microsoft Corp. continues to push its own, incompatible approach.
Sun is casting Java as the star of coming ''network computers'' called JavaStations. These stripped-down machines won't require disk drives. They'll pull the programs they need directly off the network, thus holding down maintenance costs. ''There's no software for network computers right now,'' says Yankee Group analyst Brian Murphy. ''But by this time next year, it will be a very different story.''
By Neil Gross in New York and Robert D. Hof in San Francisco
Updated June 24, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.