Sun's Expanding Universe
More than a decade ago, Sun coined the phrase ''The network is the computer.'' At last, it's coming true. And Sun is harnessing the Internet to put computing power at people's fingertips in a host of new ways.
Powerful backroom computers serve up programs and services to desktop computers and other devices. Sun reaps its financial rewards from Internet computing by selling both the computers and high-priced specialized software for running Web sites and managing E-commerce. Sun's server sales jumped 30% last year.
Sun's software for writing programs that can run on any device connected to a network is the grease for a simpler style of computing and Internet services. To hasten Java's acceptance, Sun charges only minimal licensing fees, thus attracting 900,000 software developers. Java's momentum hasn't caught on for creating desktop applications, but many corporations are using it for major data-gathering and storage applications.
Sun's new technology is designed to make it easier for people to connect computers to a network and use other devices on it--such as printers, copiers, and fax machines. Quantum will use it in new disk drives.
In Sun's universe, these mainframes-on-a-desktop will fade in importance, necessary only for engineers and finance types who need big horsepower at their fingertips. So far, though, PCs seem to be thriving, with sales growth topping 13% last year to hit 100 million units.
Stripped-down desktop computers from Sun and other suppliers run programs on the server or download them as needed. Such NCs are off to a slow start--with only about 500,000 sold in 1998--and Sun's not leading the pack.
TVS AND CABLE SET-TOP BOXES
The Net provides a conduit for new types of computer- and communications-driven services, such as video on demand and home banking. About 1.4 million Internet-connected TVs were sold last year, and that number is forecast to swell to 11 million by 2000. This year, cable giant Tele-Communications plans to start distributing 20 million Java-equipped set-top boxes.
Simple devices for straightforward services such as grocery ordering. France's Alcatel is using Java to deliver Internet services such as E-mail and Web access to its Internet Screenphone that's available in Europe.
CELLULAR PHONES AND PAGERS
Wireless devices untether access to Net services such as airline delay alerts and stock quotes. Sales of digital cell phones topped 13 million last year--so there's plenty of demand. Ericsson plans to use Java programs to offer new services through its cellular phones.
Visa and others want to program Net services such as airline ticket purchases into smart cards. Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore issued the first Visa Java smart card last June, and smart-card makers Gemplus and NEC also will offer Java smart cards this year. Some 22 million smart cards were sold in 1998. By 2002, sales may mushroom to 1.6 billion.
Net connections can make navigation and diagnostic systems smarter and updatable. Delphi Automotive Systems, the electronics supplier owned by General Motors, plans to offer a Java-based system that would give cars voice-activated E-mail and navigation capabilities this year.
Java-powered rings and pass cards could serve as high-tech keys to hotel rooms or corporate networks. Dallas Semiconductor has sold 50,000 copies of its Java-based ibutton, an electronic component for these keys.
DATA: SUN MICROSYSTEMS INC., INTERNATIONAL DATA CORP., DATAQUEST INC., BUSINESS WEEK
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