Java developers laud ruling in Microsoft case

A U.S. District Court judge's plan to force Microsoft to ship the most recent version of Java software with Windows desktop operating systems may revive Java development and help its rival, Sun Microsystems, battle .Net.

That's how some Java developers, corporate IT executives and analysts see the impact of a pending action by U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore in the private antitrust case between Sun and Microsoft.

Java and the .Net framework are Internet-enabled distributed computing platforms that compete head to head. Motz, in an opinion released just before Christmas, said he doesn't want Microsoft's previous antitrust violations, found in its recently settled federal case, to help it defeat the Java platform.

By requiring Microsoft to ship up-to-date versions of Java, the judge said he wants to ensure that Java gets a fair shake in the platform war. He is expected to issue his "must carry" order in the next two weeks.

Having that Java desktop availability "removes a lot of the stress of competing with the .Net framework," said Jason Norman, who works with Java as a health systems software engineer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. "But it's not going to be a decisive thing either way. It does not mean that Java is going to dominate, because Java has its own set of challenges."

One such challenge is Swing, Sun's tool for creating interfaces, which he said is slow and difficult to work with.

But Andre Mendes, chief technology integration officer at the Public Broadcasting Service in Alexandria, Va., said many IT departments have already decided the issue by not downloading and upgrading the latest Java software runtime environment from Sun.

"There has not been a clear mandate from the masses out there to have [Java] included as part of the operating system," said Mendes. He said it has never been an obstacle for companies to upgrade Java on their systems.

Microsoft officials said their reasons for opposing the "must carry" rule were outlined in legal briefs. Among the problems the company cited are potentially jeopardized Windows shipping dates and a lack of limitations on what Sun could put in its runtime environment. It could also hurt the quality and security of Windows releases, Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft currently ships a version of the JVM that's at least five years old. Developers have to either ensure that clients have the latest JVM, limit features to those supported by the earlier version or simply serve up HTML.

"If the JVM did become standard on every desktop, it could open the door for really, really rich clients," said Scott Davis, head of the Denver Java Users Group and a consultant at Kres Consulting, in Englewood, Colo.

Java user group officials in Seattle, Atlanta and Cleveland echoed Davis' point. The "quality of Web applications will increase as developers will be able to make use of the latest Java advances from within the browser," said Jayson Raymond, chairman of the Seattle Java Users Group and CEO and chief technology officer of Accelerant Mobile Corp., a Java development firm in Issaquah, Wash.

Java developers also point out that they have adapted by working around the problem created by Microsoft with plug-ins. Moreover, business applications that use Java are typically bundled with up-to-date versions of Java. "The Java community just kind of moved on without Microsoft," said Maciej Zawadzki, president of UrbanCode Inc. in Cleveland and head of local Java users group. "There is an answer to all of the problems."

But IDC analyst Rikki Kirzner called the ruling "extraordinarily important" for Java.

"Microsoft's continued refusal to acknowledge its existence, its importance, is making it difficult for companies to try to figure out how to support Java and deal with a .Net migration," said Kirzner. "What this ruling does is force Microsoft to support Java, which makes the burden much easier on the development community."

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