Compaq rethinks Java support in PCs

Compaq Computer Corp. stepped up its support for Java Friday, rethinking an earlier plan not to bundle support for the technology with desktop and laptop computers running Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows XP operating system.

The computer maker said it now plans to bundle a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) with every Windows XP computer it sells, meaning users will be able to run Java programs without having to install the software on their own.

Microsoft last month said it plans to phase out support for Java in key desktop software products. Beginning with Windows XP and its upcoming Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) Web browser, Microsoft will no longer include a built-in JVM, instead requiring users to download the program from Microsoft's Web site or from a third-party vendor. A JVM runs independently of a computer's operating system and allows virtually any type of computer from PCs to cell phones to run applications written in Java. Without the software a device would not be able to run Java programs, which can be used to jazz up a Web pages with dynamic features like a stock ticker, or to build Web-based applications such as online video games.

Computer makers have been split on whether they will compensate for Microsoft's decision by bundling a JVM with their PCs. [See, "Industry divided over Java on Windows XP PCs," Aug. 16.] Dell Computer Corp. was the first of the major vendors to agree to bundle Java with its Windows XP machines. Compaq, which originally said it wasn't interested in preinstalling the software, had a change of plans Friday.

"We have had a change of policy," said Roger Frizzell, a Compaq spokesman. "Based on feedback we've been receiving from customers, we've decided now to preinstall Java with Windows XP on both desktops and portables."

The turnaround comes as Microsoft and Java-creator Sun Microsystems Inc. continue a longtime dispute over support for Java. The companies settled a four-year old lawsuit in January in which Sun had accused Microsoft of trying to "pollute" the technology by using an incompatible version in its products. As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to pay Sun $20 million and was restricted to using an older version of Java in its software. It denied any wrongdoing.

Despite the settlement the battle continues. Sun last week took out a full-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers urging consumers to "demand that Microsoft include the Java platform in their XP operating system and that the PC vendors' include the Java platform on their systems." Sun argues that pulling Java from Windows is an attempt by its biggest foe to stifle success of the technology.

Microsoft shot back Thursday, issuing a statement balking at Sun's demands. "Sun Microsystems has turned its marketing machine into high gear about Windows XP, claiming that Microsoft has hurt Sun, Java and customers by not including the Microsoft virtual machine in Windows XP," the company said. "It's time to set the facts straight."

As the battle over Java on the desktop continues ahead of the expected Oct. 25 launch of Windows XP, industry partners such as PC makers and Internet service providers are stuck in the middle of the debate. Industry analysts, however, aren't sure Microsoft's decision to stop supporting Java will have much of an impact on the industry or on consumers.

"For all practical purposes it's a non-issue," said Mark Driver, an analyst with Gartner Inc. commenting on Windows XP's omission of Java. "It's a little more impactful on Internet Explorer, but most consumers probably aren't going to notice."

Consumers who buy PCs without Java support will be prompted to download a 5M-byte JVM the first time they come upon a Web site running Java applications. Users who upgrade from earlier Windows operating systems that already support Java won't be affected.

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Matt Berger

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