Java's little more than bad sci-fi

Java's little more than bad sci-fi

Friends of Rachel Carrington would have seen the longing in her eyes. But her friends were in Vermont. She was a stranger to her colleagues in Washington. They assumed, when they gave it any thought at all, that the long hours she spent in the lab with the professor were motivated not by physical love but by love of physics. That is, until they found her sobbing over the professor's lifeless body.

Rachel was in the lab with Professor Ava when it happened. The two of them were testing an experimental J-beam generator when they discovered that J/Direct radiation was leaking through the leaded windows they assumed would protect them. Rachel had just turned off the generator when Jim Ava collapsed to the floor, face down. Dead.

As the lab director began to escort Rachel away, she tore herself free and wrapped her arms around the professor. Just then, the body twitched. He was alive! With sudden joy, she turned the professor toward her. She leaped back and screamed. Ava wasn't alive.

He was mutating into a gruesome and uncontrollable monster. Oooeeeooo!

The saga of Microsoft, J/Direct, and Java might as well be a 1950s B-grade movie. The premise that J/Direct will mutate Java is, after all, science fiction. Microsoft announced J/Direct a few weeks ago, and there is no doubt that the company intends to derail the platform-independence of Java by providing access to 32-bit Windows through J/Direct.

I had heard about the 32-bit Windows hooks and passed on what information I had.

Despite the fuss, J/Direct isn't even a new idea. Visix Software ( has a product called Vibe that lets you develop platform-specific Java applications. Like J/Direct, Vibe sinks its hooks into the native API to give the developer the advantages of each platform. Unlike J/Direct, Vibe will give you that edge on Windows 95, Windows NT, Sun Solaris, MacOS, OS/2, Irix, AIX, HP-UX, Linux, and Digital Unix.

Despite Microsoft's intention, J/Direct isn't going to derail Java. Neither J/Direct nor Vibe pose a threat. That's why I urge Windows developers to dig into the API to get the benefits of both Java and platform-specific features, whether they use J/Direct, Vibe, or anything.

The debate rages because Microsoft apparently sees Java developers as one big group with a single motivation. But in reality there are two groups: Windows developers who are using or are considering using Java, and Java developers after the benefits of platform-independence. Now, which developers do you think Microsoft wants to lure with J/Direct? The Windows developers who are considering Java? Bzzt. Wrong answer. But Microsoft will never get platform-independent developers to buy into J/Direct even if it succeeds in making Windows the best platform for Java.

Think not? I have some shocking news. Windows is where the money is today. But there is a world out there besides Windows. And it is growing daily. Admittedly, it's hard to recognise the inevitability of this trend because almost everything published about network-centric computing is trash.

Here's some reality for a change: network computers are nothing like dumb terminals. They can be based on extremely powerful processors. Even Intel processors. They can have floppies and hard drives. They don't have to be useless when disconnected from the network. They are more like PCs than Windows terminals because they run applications at the client, not the server. They are less server-intensive than Windows terminals. In addition to running Java-based applications, they can function as Windows terminals, X-terminals, or dumb terminals. The sky is the limit for NCs. They don't even have to be computers.

To the Java developers who chose Java to tap into this growing market, Microsoft cannot possibly make Windows the best Java platform by providing hooks into the 32-bit Windows API. But for Windows developers, technologies such as J/Direct and Vibe will make Java a wonderfully attractive option.

Hark the Clarion call

Just about a year ago, I trumpeted the new object-oriented features in Clarion for Windows 2.0. It was a useful but incomplete implementation of object orientation, and I wondered if TopSpeed ( intended to fill in some of the gaps. I'm wondering no more. I got my greedy little fingers on Beta 1 of Clarion 4, and I can tell you this is going to be one whopper of an upgrade for object-oriented programming (OOP) lovers.

Clarion is built to take more of a data-centric approach to object orientation than competing products. You derive a custom database table from a standard one and add or override methods. Clarion's object orientation, therefore, resembles the approach of object-enabled database servers rather than development tools.

Now, how are existing Clarion developers going to adjust to this massive language change? It will be practically effortless. They were prepped for it by the pseudo OOP in Clarion for Windows 2.0.

Application generators are now passé, but most Clarion developers I know wouldn't part with theirs. That is a real boon, because all these developers have to do to start building object-oriented applications is take their old application designs - custom code included - and run them through the new application generator. The new templates will generate all object-oriented code.

I'm sure there will be some tweaking that must be done in large, complex applications, but this is about as simple as it gets to move from procedural code to OOP.

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