You've got to give sun credit for making a good effort -- however, JavaOS for Business is a good effort that's about 18 months too late. The plan looks good on paper, but it won't attract enough independent support to play a significant role in corporate computing systems.
Now, before you start firing up your e-mail program to call me a "Microsoft bigot", let me explain that this is not about Microsoft's Windows CE vs Sun's OS. It is about reducing risk for your computing environment -- and Sun Microsystems hasn't demonstrated itself to be a partner worth betting on. Given the amount of roadkill on this path, it appears that Java-based versions of PC applications won't cut it in today's business world.
This reality seems odd given that JavaOS and network computers were based on strong fundamental assumptions. NCs answered the demand of corporations that wanted to cut the costs associated with managing corporate computing environments, find easier ways to build (potential) cross-platform applications, and buy less expensive computers. Yet, while Sun and its JavaOS business partners were running around like the Keystone Cops, Microsoft, Intel and PC manufacturers assessed the threat to their existing gravy trains and responded with managed PCs, great PC-based Java development environments, and sub-$US1000 desktops.
All talk and no action
Meanwhile, Sun crowed about its latest JavaOS. Unfortunately for Sun (and its potential business partners), it was only talking and not shipping products. Lots of product strategies were presented under the labels of JavaOS for Network Computers, JavaOS for Appliances (now JavaOS for Consumers), PersonalJava, and PicoJava. It is confusing for potential customers to keep track of the constantly changing landscape during the past two years, let alone for developers trying to decide where to bet their company's resources.
But having said all this, I don't think that JavaOS for Business is a dead-on-arrival product. Although it won't grow to be the Wintel monopoly-busting product it started out to be, I believe it will be a solid niche product. And in our computing cornucopia, niche products have an increasingly important role.
A niche play exists for the JavaOS for Business platform. It can offer companies a focused computing platform to deploy custom Java applications. That is assuming that Sun doesn't change its direction again before vendors start shipping. However, IBM's commitment to this OS version should slow Sun's quick mind shifts. But even with IBM's mass, don't expect this new OS to become a major market force. It hasn't worked for OS/2.
As promised, Netscape released its Communicator source code this month. Kudos to Netscape for lining up announced support from Adobe, Digital (at least until it becomes part of Compaq), Intel, Intuit, NetObjects, Oracle, and Sybase. This type of commitment shows that ISVs can fully leverage this dramatic move.
Although I still firmly believe that corporations should be wary of creating their own browser applets, key corporate developers could benefit by studying the architecture of this source code. It demonstrates a proven way to build non-Java cross-platform applications by segmenting the source into two parts: XP (cross platform) and FE (front end). For corporations, this real-world example teaches more than you can learn from 20-year-old computing theory books.