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Sun has a solution to these problems. This solution bypasses the vendor and relies on plug-in technology to distribute newer JREs.
A plug-in architecture -- essentially the combination of an architecture and plug-ins -- is a specification for and implementation of that part of a browser that dynamically loads plug-ins as needed. Both Netscape and Microsoft have added this architecture to their browsers. (The actual implementations of the architecture are quite different: Netscape uses a simple executable implementation, while Microsoft uses its ActiveX object model implementation.)
A plug-in is executable code that is stored in a library file. When referenced via special HTML tags, the browser loads this library, via its plug-in architecture, and starts running the library's code. (If you've ever come across a Web page that references Macromedia's Shockwave or the VXtreme Web Theater, you've seen examples of plug-ins at work.)
Sun's solution is the creation of a plug-in for Java, known as Java Plug-in.
Java Plug-in is a software product that serves as a bridge between a browser and an external JRE. A developer "tells" the browser to use this external JRE by placing special HTML tags on a Web page. Once this is done, a browser can run Java applets or JavaBeans components that have access to all the features (within the limits of Java's security model) of this external JRE.
Sun released Java Plug-in 1.1 in April '98. Shortly thereafter, JavaWorld polled its readership to gauge reaction to this product. The Java Plug-in 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 maintenance releases followed. (See Resources for details on the JavaWorld poll and releases of Java Plug-in.)
Concomitant with the release of JDK 1.2 (now known as the Java 2 platform), Sun has released Java Plug-in 1.2. However, unlike previous releases, this release is currently only available for the Microsoft Windows (95/98/NT) platform. Sun is currently working to make Java Plug-in 1.2 available for its Solaris platform.
This article explores Java Plug-in 1.2, starting with a discussion on how to download and install this technology. It is based on my experience using Java Plug-in 1.2 with the Internet Explorer 3.02 and Netscape Communicator 4.5 browsers, under the Windows 95 operating system.
Java Plug-in 1.2 is currently packaged with JRE 1.2. If you want to preinstall Java Plug-in, download and install JRE 1.2 from Sun's Web site, which is linked to in the Resources section. Or, you can choose to have your browser download Java Plug-in (with minimal intervention from you, depending on your browser) when you "surf" to a Web page that references that plug-in. Here's how: