Dinner is served: opinion by courses

Appetiser: I was interested to read a couple of weeks ago that Novell has licensed Internet Explorer from Microsoft. In case you missed it, Novell has done what in Ray Noorda's time would have been unthinkable. Noorda was very much against Microsoft -- not too surprising given the assault Microsoft made on Novell back then.

It really wasn't until Eric Schmidt came to the helm that Novell was ready to work with Microsoft. In a way, it is actually quite the sophisticated position to adopt.

This position says to the market that Novell is carefully selecting the areas and issues in which it will compete, and it doesn't see Microsoft as serious competition in the network server market. Now Novell customers will have both browsers available when they install NetWare -- a wise move for Novell now that the browser wars are over.

Main course: While Microsoft was winding itself up to obliterate Netscape from the browser market, it made good sense to pooh-pooh Java, which was a key Netscape technology and rallying flag for the anti-Microsoft brigade. Microsoft's resistance to Java could hardly have been due to Sun's ownership of the language, after all, what kind of threat is Sun to Microsoft?

Microsoft's concern was that it couldn't own the Java market so Microsoft could either cooperate (unthinkable), or push a different agenda.

Thus, it was no surprise that Microsoft touted its own ActiveX technology instead of Java. But ActiveX, which is a foundational component of Windows, is pretty lame.

To begin with, security with ActiveX isn't what anyone in their right mind could call robust. And the fact is, if there ever was a wretched bastard of a technology, ActiveX is it. It is big, clumsy, overly complex and ugly. But Microsoft has no reason to get rid of it. Unless ...

And herein lies an interesting opportunity for the Redmond behemoth. I would suggest that with Microsoft's control of the browser market, the death of the network computer and the inability of Sun to drive Java, Microsoft has no reason not to pick up the Java flag and make it its own.

Microsoft should commit to Java, but do so by promoting Java as an open standard. It must become the champion and not try to be the owner. Now why would Microsoft do such a thing? First, it would deflect a lot of criticism.

The company is not so powerful or so bulletproof that it can do without friends. This strategy would make a lot of people rethink their attitude toward Bill and Co. Second, a Java commitment will stimulate the applications market, which always winds up paying off for Microsoft.

Microsoft already has the foundations in place: it has an excellent Java compiler and a decent Java Virtual Machine in Internet Explorer.

I think it is time for Microsoft to realise it can do something no other company can do, and do so without surrendering any control. I would go further and suggest that if Microsoft does this, it will do more for innovation, creativity and the industry than any company has ever done.

We've dined well, and I think wisely: a helping of Nouvelle Novell followed by Microsoft Surprise. To go with this meal, Chateau Gibbs, '98, a heavy little wine most suited for hand-to-hand combat.

(Got indigestion yet? Could Java be the diet Microsoft needs? Dietary advice to nwcolumn@gibbs.com)

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