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Developers favor ruling on MS Java

November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 7:46 PM PT

by Elizabeth Heichler and Marc Ferranti


(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS - The day after a judge ordered Microsoft to make changes to its Java-related products so that they comply with Sun's compatibility tests, some software developers reacted with satisfaction, while one Microsoft rival offered to "help" its competitor.

Judge Ronald Whyte of the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday ruled that Sun is likely to prevail on the merits of the case it has brought against Microsoft for allegedly violating its licensing agreement for the Java platform and tools by implementing them in a non-standard fashion. He granted a preliminary injunction sought by Sun, which forces Microsoft to make changes to Windows 98, Internet Explorer 4.0 and Microsoft's Java software development kit for the duration of the trial. No date has yet been set for the trial.

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Microsoft released a statement yesterday saying it would comply with the order. It will comply within 90 days by supporting Sun's Java Native Interface in the Microsoft Java virtual machine and turning off by default certain Microsoft-specific keywords in its development tools.

Many developers and Java partisans have charged that Microsoft is trying to sabotage the multiplatform aspects of Java and fragment the market by offering Java tools that develop applications to run only on Windows.

Little balm for Microsoft's fresh wounds could be found in the Linux Pavilion at Comdex/Fall '98.

"Hoo-ha!" exulted Tim Jones, vice president of Enhanced Software Technologies of Phoenix, Ariz. "I think that if Microsoft wants to play ball, it needs to play ball by the rules." Jones has been following the Sun-Microsoft Java lawsuit with more interest than the high-profile antitrust case brought against Microsoft by the Department of Justice, because its subject matter really "hits home" for the average developer.

The issue at stake is "who makes a standard," said Jones, who spoke to a reporter at his company's Comdex booth. "I appreciate the fact that just because of Microsoft's size, it doesn't necessarily set the standard."

Microsoft's efforts to go off on its own technical tangent with Java "created not two camps, but a lot of confusion," said Eric Ding, software development engineer at Applix in Westboro, Mass.

Java itself has obstacles to overcome beyond Microsoft, Ding added, in particular the high level of early hype about Java that prematurely oversold it given the level of code maturity it has attained.

"Linux is getting a similar treatment in the media right now but has more code maturity to back it up," Ding said.

There also was strong support for Whyte's decision in Microsoft's own backyard --the third-party developers area of its enormous Comdex booth.

"This is a good thing for Java," said Raymond Kellman, an account executive with Karta Technologies, developer of the PowerPoint-based KartaNarrator. "By adding its own extensions to Java, Microsoft has taken it in a different direction than originally intended-basically, it has stifled Java and stopped Java's growth. But they (Microsoft) can't have their own way all the time."

The Microsoft extensions to Java have split up the language, making it more difficult for programmers to develop Java-based applications across Windows and non-Windows platforms, according to Gregg Mahdessian, a manager of professional services at thin-client device manufacturer Boundless Technologies. "Having different versions of Java was like having different versions of Unix-making it harder for developers and decreasing interest in it."

The advice from several developers and manufacturers exhibiting at the Microsoft booth was clear: the software giant should not try to appeal the preliminary injunction.

"Microsoft should play along with this-with everything that's coming out in the government trial, it's a grand opportunity for good publicity," said Bill Schiel, senior applications consultant with software developer Intellution, a unit of Emerson Electric, also exhibiting at the Microsoft booth.

However, not all developers said they thought that Microsoft's version of Java was detrimental to the development of the technology and growth of the market. Microsoft offers the fastest implementation of Java, said Dan Bricklin, creator of the first PC spreadsheet, VisiCalc, and currently founder and chief technology officer of Trellix, makers of the online document creation tool of the same name.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's archrival in the tools arena, Inprise (formerly Borland), offered some assistance to its nemesis. From a company conference in Tokyo it offered to license its JBuilder 100% Pure Java development tools to Microsoft-but noted in a press release that "Financial terms of the offer were not disclosed."

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