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ON TECHNOLOGY

By Eugene Koh

The Internet has been the inspiration for strange and beautiful catch-phrases over the years. Like "cyberspace." And "World Wide Web." And, of course, "finger."

Recently, Sun Microsystems, a leading manufacturer of high-end computers (the "fas" machine is a Sun, for example), has added a new term to the cyberpunk lexicon: HotJava.

HotJava is a new technology that will enable users of Sun, Windows NT, and Macintosh operating systems to access World Wide Web pages so hip that they make today's best online services look like chopped broccoli.

Web pages supporting HotJava can be designed to include full-motion video at CD-ROM quality. This means that instead of being limited to still photos, HotJava Web pages may include full-blown animations featuring digitized sound and video.

In addition, HotJava allows for live online chat and other interactive services that rival those offered by commercial services like Prodigy and America Online.

Full-function applications are even possible within HotJava Web pages. Already, a demo version of a Web-based spreadsheet has been released on Sun Microsystems' HotJava home page (http://java.sun.com).

This new Web browser, with its unprecedented ability to bring multimedia and interactivity to the Web, will prompt a "new generation" of Web pages--especially if Sun ever gets around to developing a Windows 95 version.

And the kicker? It's all free.

In the true spirit of the Internet, Sun plans on publically distributing the HotJava Web browser (along with complete documentation for the object-oriented Java language used to develop HotJava Web pages).

What does this mean for Harvard students? For Mac users at least, it means that more time will be wasted surfing the 'Net than ever before.

HotJava is designed such that instead of reading only specific types of graphics, sound and text files, the browser can also read entire programs called applets which run automatically on the user's machine.

Through applets, much of the computing horsepower necessary for multimedia is delegated from the Web site to the user's machine, resulting in vastly greater flexibility in the functionality of Web pages.

Once the flexibility of HotJava technology is available to the general public, the face of the Web will surely change; already, programmers can write applets to do everything traditional programs do, and applets may be linked directly to the World Wide Web for use by millions.

By way of High-Speed Data Network (HSDN) connections, Harvard students will in large numbers be able to take immediate advantage of HotJava once the Macintosh version of the browser is complete. Sun is releasing HotJava first for their own Solaris workstations (prerelease versions are already available online from the HotJava home page mentioned above).

While Sun is itself working on Windows NT and MacOS versions of the software, the company is opening the doors to other possible versions (such as a Windows 3.1 version) by making the source code available online so that programmers can experiment freely.

How soon will the general public be Javized?

Commercial online services have been rushing to support the Web so that anyone with a computer and modem can take advantage of its features. Already, Prodigy has released a Web browser, and in the few months since that browser, and in the few months since that browser's release, several popular Web sites have suffered severe system crashes due to the flood of new users.

As the commercial services refine the means by which they deliver Web technology to the mass market and manufacturers continue to drive prices for multimedia hardware into the cellar, it shouldn't be long before HotJava-like technology is available to a wide audience.

In the meantime, students with Power Macs connected to the HSDN can look for ward in the coming months to Sun's exciting new way of surfing the World Wide Web.

Eugene Koh '96-'97 is Remote Staff Manager, Media Services, at America Online, Inc. He may be reached online as "ekoh@fas.harvard.edu."

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