SAN FRANCISCO—With its JavaOne conference behind it, Sun Microsystems Inc. is looking ahead to extensions of the Java platform such as high-performance computing and new scripting programmer support—and possibly a whole new language.
"Weve got one group thats seriously doing some language stuff, and thats a part of a project that targets HPCS, or High Performance Computing Systems," said James Gosling, chief technology officer of Suns Software Products group and creator of Java, in an interview here last month.
Officials for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is contracting the work, said the project aims to bridge the gap between late-1980s-based technology in many HPC environments and the needs of current environments. The project also features funding from IBM and Cray Inc.
"[Sun is] building high-end numerical computing hardware and software," Gosling said. "Its not clear how it will go, but theyre looking at programming language support for doing scientific computing." Gosling said the language will likely be built atop JVM (Java virtual machine), but as yet "its not a product. Theres no FCS [first customer ship] or alpha date."
However, David Bailey, chief technologist in the Computational Research Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, Calif., said Java is not yet ready for the scientific community. "Im not aware of much Java being done in the serious scientific computing arena, mostly because the performance of Java code is, so far, not competitive with C/C++ or FORTRAN 90," Bailey said.
But Katherine Yelick, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said she doesnt quite agree. "As to the performance difference between Java and the other languages, its not as large as you might expect," Yelick said. She is co-leader of the Titanium project at UC Berkeley, which is an explicitly parallel dialect of Java for HPC. However, it does not target JVM, she said.
"It makes very good sense for Sun to develop a version of Java, which could combine software development productivity with high parallel efficiency," said Horst Simon, associate lab director of computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.
Meanwhile, Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., may be considering developing a new language, said Graham Hamilton, a Sun distinguished engineer who shepherded Java 5.0. "We dont want to go the C++ route—continuing to tinker with the language until it becomes too complicated," Hamilton said. "Rather, lets try and apply new ideas to a new language. Weve got this enormous investment in the Java platform; well, that enormous investment can keep working with new languages."
"Wed like to adopt more scripting languages like PHP," Hamilton said. "Groovy is an open-source language that is targeting the Java platform. Wed like to see a few more like that, actually. We like the strength of the Java language, but, for us, this is much more of a platform play than a language play. We like other friendly languages that will help us target a wider range of developers."