Microsoft Corp. fired final parting shots at Sun Microsystems Inc. and Java by dropping its Java Virtual Machine from the forthcoming Windows XP operating system. In addition, it has moved to block the ability for Java applets to run by default within the Outlook client.
The moves crystallize the ongoing separation between Microsofts .Net and Suns Java development platforms, pulling many developers to the Windows and .Net platforms. So far, developers are mixed in their reactions to the moves.
"This is very typical Microsoft," said Robin Cutshaw, president of Internet Labs Inc., in Atlanta. "If they cant do it their way, they wont do it at all."
Microsoft officials said the company made the decision to eliminate its JVM from XP as a result of the settlement reached with Sun earlier this year, which "constrained" Microsoft from further developing the VM, software that enables Java applets to execute in a Web browser.
Going forward, users and administrators will still be able to install Java on XP, but first they must download a VM from either Microsoft or Sun. A Microsoft spokesman said that XP will keep the existing JVM for customers who upgrade from Windows 2000 and other versions of Windows.
Many developers said there will be short-term inconvenience but a chance for long-term benefits. "The world is not going to turn its back on Java simply because Microsoft is not going to ship it with XP," said Tim Huckaby, president of InterKnowlogy LLC, an e-business development company and a Microsoft partner in Carlsbad, Calif. "You just really do wish Microsoft and Sun could play well together in the sandbox because who loses? The customer."
Internet Labs Cutshaw, however, stressed that, over time, Java developers will no longer have to worry about coding to Microsofts version of Java. "Itll make it more painful for the end users to get Java or Java applets up the first time, but it will be better after that," he said. "Theyll be getting a standard version [of Java] in the end."
Other alternatives for users will be to rely on computer manufacturers that could preinstall Suns JVM on PCs with XP. But a spokesman with Compaq Computer Corp., in Houston, said the company has no plans to put the JVM on Compaq PCs. According to Compaq, users who want it can download it.
Sun provides a Windows virtual machine as part of the latest Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition release (1.3) and will continue to provide Windows support in the future, said Sun officials in Palo Alto, Calif.
Meanwhile, the security community met Microsofts move to prevent Java applets from running by default in Outlook with mixed emotions.
For its part, the Redmond, Wash., company said it is removing Java support because the tiny programs can be used to spread viruses, an assertion for which there is little evidence.
Nevertheless, the effort seemed to resonate with some users, who said Outlook has become one of Microsofts most troublesome applications.
However, many still see Microsofts actions as not only a thinly veiled dig at Sun but also as the wrong approach to Outlooks security problems. The e-mail client, which ships with Windows 9x, 2000 and XP, has been beset by a series of e-mail viruses that take advantage of its ability to execute Visual Basic script files.
"[Microsoft has] gotten so much bad publicity for worms [and] viruses ... that theyve decided to err on the side of caution," said Paul Schmehl, supervisor of support services at the University of Texas at Dallas. "Personally, I think the decision to tighten security in Outlook was a good one, even though its irritated me a time or two. So Im just as happy not to have it."