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Microsoft and Java

At stake: the future of e-business computing.

As most of you know, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are on the second leg of what figures to be a protracted legal battle related to Java. Sun won the first round, which forced Microsoft to include a standardized Java Virtual Machine in all versions of Windows. But at a critical juncture of Microsoft’s antitrust proceedings, it decided to drop Java support as of 2004. At the time, Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan was quoted as saying, “The decision to remove Microsoft’s Java implementation was made because of Sun’s strategy of using the legal system to compete with Microsoft.”

This spurred Sun to file another suit, again to force Microsoft into supporting Java. Based on the U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz’s comments, Sun will probably win this round as well. Motz said Microsoft’s tactics are similar to Tonya Harding hiring a thug to hit rival skater Nancy Kerrigan on the kneecap with a club. Then again, comments like these made Judge Jackson’s antitrust death sentence against Microsoft eminently appealable. So, perhaps Microsoft will win this one on appeal as well.

I know what you’re thinking: “Microsoft, court stuff, yada-yada-yada … who cares?” I know the effect of Microsoft’s almost constant legal wrangling is to numb the senses. But this one is really important. We’re not just talking about whether Java is bundled with Windows clients or users have to download it. Though this is important, Java on the client will be a nonissue by 2004. All users will need to have it and there’s nothing Microsoft can do about that. They lost that battle in Sun v. Microsoft, Round One.

No, this is about the future of Web services. As our March cover and Q&A feature will make clear, it is basically a two-team race for Web services dominance: Microsoft .Net vs. IBM’s WebSphere and its related tools. Java is at the center of this battle. WebSphere is an application server based on J2EE that allows developers to run standard middleware between the OS and associated applications. It also enables development by other open-standard languages such as C and C++. .Net includes at its base the standard Windows middleware developer toolkit Microsoft Visual Studio.Net, based on Visual Basic and C#–Microsoft’s proprietary version of C++. Suffice it to say, the winner of this race will either be Java and C++ or Visual Basic.Net and C#.

Ultimately, customers will decide whether to use IBM’s more open-standards approach or Microsoft’s more proprietary approach. History usually favors open standards. Remember J++, Microsoft’s attempt to make its own proprietary version of Java? It died as much from lack of developer interest as from the court-mandated standard virtual machine. However, the court case will also play a key role here. If Microsoft is forced to support Java by law, IBM’s platform-neutral approach will look more attractive. There will be less to differentiate the two approaches, except that IBM embraced Java and Microsoft support it with great reluctance. We already see how its reluctance to support Java leads to problems such as the recently announced eight security holes in its VM. How many more problems will there be when entire company infrastructures rest on Java?

Here are some items related to this topic, from Internet News; from our Web site; and from Business Week.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com

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