Java and RISC OSBy Nick Brown. Published: 19th Sep 2007, 06:03:44 | Permalink | Printable
Nick Brown explores the state of play and future optionsOpinion - In 1995 Sun Microsystems announced and released a programming language which would, arguably, become one of the most popular languages shaping modern computing. Initially released as Oak in 1995, the next version in 1997 saw the name changed to Java. Since these early creations almost every platform has become supported with millions of programmers creating millions of programs - all of these are portable regardless of which system Java is running on.
With a very large percentage of higher education institutes now teaching their students Java, whether you love it or hate it, the language is here to stay and forms a major cornerstone of computing as we know it. However, having said all this, there is no up to date version for RISC OS - why?
If a RISC OS user wishes to write and run Java programs there is very limited support available on our platform in terms of third-party rewrites. The first port of call is the Unix Porting Project - with the wealth of software available for Unix, porting an existing system should be a possibility. In order to run a Java program you need supporting software called the Runtime Environment, and one of these in the form of Kaffe has been ported by the UPP. There are also two Java compilers available from the project allowing a RISC OS user to develop programs in the language.
Problem solved? Well not really. Unfortunately due to the huge amount of work required, these ports are not kept up to date, are very much unfinished and only support the first version of Java. The rest of the world is currently up to version 6.
Another Java implementation is Taurus JavaVM, again completely developed by a third-party as the author has written this software from scratch. There are versions for Windows, Linux, MS-DOS and, of course, RISC OS allowing for both the execution and development of Java code. The major advantage of this program is that it supports Java version 4, but the code is not complete and there is no support for networking and desktop applications.
A major disadvantage to this software is the performance - on a RISC PC with a StrongARM processor it takes around 90 seconds to load and run a simple Java program, such as the one pictured. In addition, due to the number of files per directory limit in RISC OS 3.7 and below, the program is really only usable on RISC OS 4, 5 or 6. Saying all that, as the implementation is open source and quite simple, it would probably be relatively easy for a programmer to extend and improve it.
In late 1997 there was an Acorn version of Java which supported version 1. Since Acorn's demise in 1998 there has been no further official development and the software is now difficult to find. When Java was initially released Sun announced on their website that they were to release a RISC OS version. Unfortunately this never materialised and, due to the platform's minority nature, they have decided that the work involved is not worth it.
There is one last twist in the story. In 2006 Sun announced that it would release the implementation of its language as open source, and from November 2006 to May 2007 the blueprints which make up Java have been released. This allows anyone to freely view and modify the core of Java, and has been hailed as a great success by many programmers. The fact that the program code is now available means that if a RISC OS programmer was so inclined, they might be able to port Sun's actual implementation. Unfortunately the amount of work required would probably be extensive, and the performance could be a let down.
Properly supported, Java on RISC OS could open the door to many more diverse programs being made available - addressing the software drought we currently face. Being able to both run all these programs and write our own Java code would, without a doubt, make the platform more attractive to potential users.
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