Analyst: Sun scraps Java chip plans

MicroJava due for release soon, but with market cooling drastically, it may be Sun's last Java-based chip

The microelectronics arm of Sun Microsystems Inc. has quietly scrapped plans to make a family of processors designed specifically to run programs written in its Java programming language.

The company plans to begin testing its first, long-awaited Java processor -- MicroJava 701 -- later this month. But that will probably be the last Sun chip based on the so-called picoJava design, said Jim Turley, a senior analyst at Microprocessor Report, an industry newsletter in Sebastapol, CA.

Announced almost exactly two years ago, picoJava allows processors to execute Java code natively, and is ideal for use in systems where memory space is limited, particularly smart phones, handheld computers and set-top boxes.

Sun licensed picoJava to several large chip makers, including NEC Corp. and IBM Corp., with the intention that those manufacturers along with Sun would each make different Java chips suited for different types of appliances.

"Overall, the market for Java chips seems to have cooled almost as rapidly as it heated up," Turley said. "Like [their] software alter-ego, Java chips have garnered a lot of attention but little in the way of actual usage."

That lukewarm market, combined with a management change in Sun's Microelectronics Division since picoJava was announced, has prompted the company to stop making its own Java chips, Turley said. Sun will continue to develop the picoJava core and deliver it to its licensees in the hope that they will build Java chips, he added.

However, like Sun, none of its licensees have yet brought a picoJava product to market, Turley said.

"At this rate, Sun's MicroJava 701 may well be the first and last of its kind," he said.

Sun officials who could discuss the company's future picoJava plans were not immediately available for comment, although a Sun spokesman confirmed the company is due to receive samples of its first Java chip later this month.

Sun's licensees are also busy developing products based on the picoJava core design, though they have yet to announce their products publicly, said the company spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The forthcoming MicroJava 701 chip will likely find its way into finished products in about six months, Turley said. But at 100 MHz, the processor is relatively slow, is large in size, and "uses as much power as a low-end Pentium," Turley said.

"It's a cow," he said bluntly.

Because of its high power consumption, the chip is unlikely to be used in battery-powered devices, but could be used in TV set-top boxes, network computers, and other devices that plug into a main outlet.

The Sun spokesman said Turley's assessment is based on information that was given to analysts some time ago and may since have changed. Turley countered that his information comes from Sun officials, and that it is quite recent.

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