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Linux and Java: A natural fit

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Many users are starting to utilize Linux as an integral network component, deploying the open-source operating system for mission-critical systems, such as Web servers, application servers and e-commerce engines. For these users, the porting of Sun's Java programming language to Linux will be of keen interest.

For enterprise networks that have implemented Linux but have been stymied by the lack of available applications, Java's motto of "write once, run anywhere" should sound like sweet music.

Just last month, Caldera's OpenLinux became the first commercial Linux distribution to ship with Java 2 Standard Edition, the core development and runtime environment needed to develop and run Java applications. This milestone for Linux is the result of efforts by Sun and Blackdown.org, a nonprofit organization made up of Linux and Java programmers that has been working on the Linux Java port for several years.

"Java is critical to Linux's enterprise future," says Cees de Groot, a Blackdown.org developer, "because Java will be a major component of enterprise back-end environments. Platforms without world-class Java support will not be able to survive long-term in the enterprise."

The commercial distribution of Java for Linux could also be interpreted as another sign that Linux is for real as an enterprise server platform, joining the ranks of Java-compatible operating systems such as Windows NT, Unix and IBM's server and host operating systems.

"Linux [and Java] provide a unique opportunity to implement large systems on commodity hardware, while still providing the level of remote maintainability that is needed for these systems," de Groot says. He adds that implementing Java also allows enterprise Linux users to introduce other advanced enterprise technologies, such as Jini for enhanced hardware networking and Enterprise JavaBeans for creating platform-neutral enterprise applications more easily.

The open source nature of Linux and Java makes the two technologies a good fit for each other. De Groot says that Sun's efforts to become more open source-oriented were helpful in Blackdown's effort to port Java to Linux. Sun, he says, "is in a transition towards a more community-oriented company. They make mistakes as any large company in such a phase is bound to do, but generally I think that the experience of the Blackdown team is that they try very hard to cooperate."

Clearly, that cooperation has succeeded, with Sun now officially licensing Java to Linux companies. As new revs of Java are released for "mainstream" operating systems, Java for Linux will be right there. The next version of Java 2SE for Linux, Version 1.3, will be released this fall, featuring the Java HotSpot Virtual Machine for faster client loading of Java. J2SE Version 1.3 for Linux will continue to be distributed through Caldera.

The combination of Linux and Java presents some interesting possibilities for network technology innovation. Enterprise that can take advantage of the customizable nature of each technology will be able to develop and deploy solutions much more tailored to their corporate computing needs than any proprietary system could offer.

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Phil Hochmuth is a Network World Senior Writer and a former systems integrator. You can reach him at phochmut@nww.com.

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