IBM and Sun: The New Stream Team

The Internet and intranets represent the greatest opportunity for the delivery of multimedia offerings since the invention of the cathode ray tube. IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. announced they are collaborating on the next release of the Java Media Framework (JMF), an API that can make video and audio part of any Java-based application without requiring plug-ins or helper applications at the client site.

Applications that can be built on top of JMF include video training applets, real-time conference videos, and information kiosks.

Version 1.0 of JMF -- codeveloped by Sun, Silicon Graphics Inc. and Intel Corp. -- was released last March. This version provided a universal media player with VCR-type playback controls -- start, stop, pause, forward, back -- that enabled users to experience media on their desktops or browsers without having to download helper applications.

Version 2.0, scheduled for early release by the end of the year, adds streaming capabilities, says Willy Chiu, director of strategy and market development for IBM's Internet media group. "Developers will be able to add audio/video streaming content to applications. They can add specialized decoding approaches, algorithms, and you can mix different types of audios and videos together."

For example, multiple streams may be going on at the same time, Chiu explains. "One stream might be a slide show, another stream could be a video that's being played; so you can synchronize the video with the slideshow at the same time."

Additional tracks will help media producers reach broader audiences, adds Andrew Shikiar, product manager with Sun Microsystems. For example, "a developer could add a second track to a video applet in Spanish," he says.

Much of this functionality is being included in the beta release of JMF 1.1, which was scheduled to ship by the end of November. "Right now, JMF 1.0 either runs in Solaris or Windows," Shikiar says. "JMF 1.1 is an all-Java version of JMF that will run on any platform."

Versions 1.1 and 2.0 include Java-based compression and decompression (codec) technology and libraries, which makes it possible for developers to add special effects and have greater control over multimedia development.

JMF 2.0 will be included in IBM's Visual Age for Java, and can be added to other Java development environments such as Visual Cafe from Symantec Corp. (Cupertino, Calif. www.symantec.com) and JBuilder from Inprise Corp. (Scotts Valley, Calif. www.inprise.com), Chiu says.

A number of video and Web software companies announced they will be implementing JMF. Instant Video Technologies Inc. (San Francisco www.burst.com), which offers Burstware video software, reports it is incorporating JMF to enable faster video speeds over the Internet.

With JMF, Burstware is capable of delivering "cinema quality, 30-frames-per-second" video speeds over networks, according to Richard Lang, chairman and CEO of Instant Video. NetObjects (Redwood City, Calif. www.netobjects.com), which works closely with IBM on Web-enabled technologies, is developing a new suite of tools with JMF.

Developers using NetObjects Fusion for Web-site development can drag and drop JMF into applications.