itmWEB TechWeekly

March 10, 1998

Inside the IBM JavaOS Project

Building a tool which can be leveraged into multiple future software products.

IBM's Scott Winters answers Mike Tetzlaff's question after the Austin AITP meeting
Mike Tetzlaff & Scott Winters

IBM has turned up the heat on its JavaOS development efforts. The company has put some of its top operating system developers on the project, and it has set aggressive deadlines for product delivery to market.

The Austin AITP Chapter recently hosted Scott Winters, IBM's JavaOS Architectural Team Leader, at a local Austin meeting where he gave an insider's look into the current progress and strategy of IBM's JavaOS efforts. Scott's humor filled presentation was both insightful and news worthy. He was also kind enough to sport a tie to our event as you can see in the photo below (most of the developers in Austin wear jeans).

Unexpected Publicity

Scott began his presentation by referring to a recent Information Week article which he said actually was a "press leak". Some IBMers had thought that Scott was the source of the leak due to our local publicity for the AITP meeting. You can read the article Scott mentioned here: Sun Enlists IBM For JavaOS Aid. At our meeting, Scott denied being the leak source. He also cautioned us about the sensitive nature of his presentation, but he stated that we were free to take notes.

In writing this feature, I have tried to be a little careful about the items Scott highlighted as being sensitive. Everything else that Scott shared with us, especially any new information regarding the IBM JavaOS project, I have tried to accurately summarize in this feature.

Fat Java Clients

One of Scott's main points at the beginning of his presentation was "why network computing?" He emphasized the difference between traditional personal computers (which are used for many varied purposes by a single user) compared to single purpose personal computers. Examples of single purpose machines include point of sale PCs, bank teller PCs, order entry PCs, etc.

If a serious technical problem occurs which requires the operating system to be reinstalled, it can take hours to reload all of the software and to reestablish all of the unique configuration settings. Scott referred to these settings as machine "personality".

The goal of JavaOS is to replace this single use PC "personality" with standard applications which reside on the server. A particular machine becomes irrelevant to a user as long as it is JavaOS enabled. All of the required software and settings reside on a server. The applications are simply loaded to the correct machine at boot up time based upon the role of the PC.

A Narrow Target Market

IBM realizes that JavaOS is not going to replace Windows. But the company also realizes that a market is developing which will require a new OS for these two purposes:

  • Access Devices

    This is the 3270 and the 5250 green screen terminal replacement market. It is also the Unix terminal replacement market. Millions of these green screen devices are still in use, and many of them are connected to IBM mainframes. Scott also mentioned that another use could be stand alone internet/intranet browsing.

  • Application Devices

    These would include single purpose machines running Java applications (the bank teller example). Some utility may exist for a PC alternative for certain data entry and data access applications. Some companies may also want to use these Java Stations as company wide PC replacements (Scott McNealy's vision at Sun), but Scott seemed to downplay this idea at our meeting.

Built for Portability and Speed!

Microsoft's Windows operating system is currently written with over six to seven million lines of code. IBM's JavaOS will come in at about one million lines of code. JavaOS will also be able to be run on many different processors - not just the Intel compatible variety.

The OS itself is 85% written in Java. The drivers are being written in assembler, and some Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and API routines are being written in C++. All of this adds up to one very fast operating system.

Once booted, the end user will actually work in the "KONA" desktop environment which is under development by Lotus. This environment will support plug-ins for Java business applets, the HotJava browser, 3270 and 5250 host on demand, xwindows, and others. Scott referred to this applications stack as a webtop or desktop.

A Wide Spanning Effort

Scott was also kind enough to give us an overview of the scope of the IBM effort. The Information Week article had reported that over 2,400 IBM developers were working on the project. Scott would not confirm or deny this number. Instead, he gave us a quick overview of the IBM development centers and the third party development companies which are currently involved in the development of JavaOS. Here is a summary from my notes:

IBM Raleigh

This team is working on the 3270 and 5250 terminal emulation.

IBM Rochester

Rochester is focused on the network station hardware and the server hardware. These products will probably end up being manufactured in Austin.

IBM Austin

The home team! This group is working on the base JavaOS, the stack integration, and the firmware.

IBM Tokyo

Part of the international effort. Tokyo is working on a Just in Time translator for Intel.

IBM Hursley

Another international team which is focused on the JDK.

IBM Zurich

The Swiss group is developing SSL and Open Card Cryptography.


Lotus has responsibility for the "KONA" Desktop and Applets.


Citrix has development responsibility for the Java ICA Client.


Out in California, Cygnus is moving forward with the compiler.


This company, also in California, is developing the XWindows interface.


Sun, the creator of JAVA, continues to work on "Luna", the JDK, and HotJava.