Embedded systems specialist Cygnus has released a freeware Open Source front-end for its GNU C compiler (gcc) that translates Java source code into native embedded machine code. The GNU compiler for Java (gcj) allows developers to write embedded systems applications in Java for around 30 different embedded chipsets, including chips used in printers and personal organisers such as the PalmPilot. Tom Barton, senior vice president of operations at Cygnus, explained that the gcj is available now for all flavours of Unix, as well as Windows NT and 95. "GNU tools are the de facto standard, being the most-used technology for embedded systems," he said. Instead of producing standard .class files, which are compiled at runtime using a JVM (Java virtual machine), Cygnus's tools compile the source code into native machine code, specific to a particular chip. Andrew Fenner, a Java developer at The Research Group, explained that Java was often erroneously perceived as merely a tool for creating Web browser applets. "Java is by nature slow. When you compile it, however, it runs at least five times faster, if not more," he said. "Sun's version of Java for embedded systems does not include native compilation, because Sun would like everyone to implement a JVM in the embedded space," claimed Barton, explaining that this was necessary to keep Java's portability intact. "But in the embedded space you need high performance and a small footprint. Embedded Java is largely inappropriate - the JVM is too big and too slow. But Java is a popular language, and gcj allows embedded systems developers to use it." Fenner added that portability was still possible. "You can always re-compile (applications) for different platforms. For the developer, this is the best of both worlds." Andy Bush, market development manager at Sun, agreed that the embedded market was very different from the traditional Java application development market served by tools such as Visual Cafe and Supercede. CYGNUS GNUPRO TOOLKIT Cygnus also announced last week that the first version of its commercial software development platform, GNUPro Toolkit, is available for the Linux platform, with versions for other platforms to follow. Cygnus is one of the companies allegedly working on a project to port Linux to the forthcoming 64-bit Intel Merced processor (see PC Week 12 May).
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