DOD reconsiders Java strategy

The Defense Department has scaled back a proposal to abandon further development of Unix-based client applications under its Common Operating Environment program and instead may focus on Java to reduce the number of platforms requiring support, sources said.

While still carving out a major role for the Internet-based technology in its computing environment, DOD does not plan to make Java its primary computing platform, as was recently considered.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an industry source familiar with a September 1998 briefing by Cmdr. Ken Wheeler, the chief engineer for the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment (DII COE), said Wheeler proposed freezing Unix client development and halting it altogether within 18 months when Version 5.0 of the COE is released.

"A lot of folks [present at the meeting] thought this wasn't such a good idea" and voiced considerable concern about the impact such a move might have on the military services' individual information technology programs, the source said.

DII COE is a DOD initiative managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency that is designed to establish a common architecture and foundation upon which interoperable systems and applications can be built. The goal of the DII COE effort is to enable DOD's mission-critical applications and systems to share data, services and functions.

Officials from DISA could not be reached for comment.

In a document obtained by FCW, a DII COE representative from the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., issued an urgent call for feedback from various program offices regarding the impact freezing Unix client support would have on their programs.

According to the ESC representative, "DISA proposed that Unix client development be frozen in the DII COE [Version] 4.x series and that Unix clients go into maintenance mode in the DII COE [Version] 5.x series, with the intent of retiring Unix client support altogether."

Members of the DII COE Configuration Review and Control Board (CRCB), a Senior Executive Service-level group that oversees and approves changes to the DII COE, voiced enough concern about the proposal that the board postponed a final decision until a meeting planned for later this month, the industry source said.

"The intent to remove Unix has existed for a year or more," the source said. "The assertions [that DISA is planning Unix's retirement] are getting more accurate."

However, in response to a query about the decision to freeze Unix development posted on one of DISA's online discussion boards, Wheeler reversed his position, saying that members of the CRCB felt the decision to freeze Unix client development was premature.

"We have since reworked our strategy to rebuild the client-side presentation services in Java for the Integrated [command, control, communications, computers and intelligence] Systems Framework software (ICSF)," Wheeler wrote. "I am hopeful that the client platform issue will become a moot point as our Java implementation matures and gets fleshed out."

Industry observers agree that Java, a cross-platform environment that allows software applications to run on PCs, Macs or Unix-based machines, may be the long-term development solution for the DII COE. In fact, Thomas McVittie, principal software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of DISA's kernel maintenance division, plans in May to present a briefing at the 11th Annual Software Technology Conference titled "Migrating the DII COE Kernel to Java."

"DISA has recognized the value of Java for getting them to cross-platform nirvana," said Doug Johnson, senior systems architect for Sun Microsystems Federal. In fact, "DISA has included in all of their COE platforms a Java Run Time Environment derived from Sun," he said.

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