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Sun Lights Up Java 1.5 Beta

Sun Microsystems has set loose the latest version of Java 2, Standard Edition (J2SE) for desktop applications.

Released Thursday, the J2SE software development kit beta version 1.5, code-named Tiger, is the first major improvement to the Java programming language since two years ago when version 1.4 was released.

In this release, officials promise increased performance, new application monitoring and management features, and continued rich-client support for the PC.

Joe Keller, Sun vice president of Java Web services marketing, said the biggest gains in J2SE 1.5 come on the developer side, with changes to the core Java language to speed up the development. Improvements include: enumerated types, metadata/autoboxing of primitive types, enhanced for loops, improved diagnostics and for the first time, the use of generics.

Generics are similar to the templates found in the C++ developer world, which essentially lets the developer write a pattern of code and re-use it whenever needed. Sun has been promising the use of generics -- which significantly speed up the development process -- for several years now, and say it is not just a C++ template copy-and-paste.

"They're both targeted at the same kind of problem, but they're different solutions," Keller told internetnews.com. "They're different languages with different interpretations of that same concept."

J2SE 1.5 also comes with reduced startup times, requires less memory, includes Java Management Extensions (JMX) and Java virtual machine auto-tuning. Keller said J2SE 1.5 includes much better support for graphics and rich-media applications.

There has been some concern among developers that increased functionality in the Java language might damage its "write once, run anywhere" portability. Besides being a community-based language -- as opposed to a proprietary language -- Java's chief lure has been its ability to run on any operating system.

On Slashdot.org, a popular technophile forum, one reader commented that the shared memory used in JVM in the new release excludes some "not-so-advanced or alternate-goal" operating systems.

Keller said that couldn't be further from the truth. The JSR working group spent a lot of time making improvements that made the language inclusive, he said.

"As a matter of fact, a lot of the work we have done is to improve (portability), especially in the rich client support for the PC desktop," he said. "That's something we continue to focus on to make Java portable."

Most of the attention Java gets these days is the continuing dominance of the language in the server market, with its Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification. J2EE only recently incorporated version 1.4 into its specification, so it will be some time before a J2EE 1.5 is announced.

Officials also announced a beta version of NetBeans 3.6, Sun's Java tool development environment, would be available for download Friday and support J2SE 1.5.

Sun officials also said NetBeans 4.0, targeted for the second half of 2004, will be optimized for J2SE 1.5.

Approval for the new version came from the Java Community Process (JCP), the governing body for changes and enhancements to the Java programming language. Java Specification Request 176 -- the specification for J2SE 1.5 -- was approved by the executive committee Jan. 20.

Developers can find J2SE SDK beta 1.5 here; NetBeans 3.6 will be available for download Friday at NetBeans.org.