At its Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco that opens March 12, Microsoft will start seeding developers with alpha copies of Internet Explorer 3.0, the company's next salvo in its ongoing Internet war with Netscape.
When it ships the final release of Version 3.0 in the third quarter, Microsoft wants to have Netscape's market-leading Navigator 2.0 Web browser in its crosshairs. But though the Redmond, Washington, company signed a letter of intent in December to license Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, it has yet to finalize an actual licensing agreement, according to Microsoft officials. If Microsoft is tardy with delivering widely adopted Java, it may undermine Internet Explorer's chances to take market share away from Navigator.
"We don't have a signed deal there yet [with Sun for Java]. That's an issue," said Mike Ahern, Internet product manager at Microsoft. "Our intent is to put [Java] in. We'll be very aggressive." Negotiations between the companies for Java are still on track, Ahern said, but Microsoft provided no reason for the delay.
A Sun spokesperson confirmed that licensing talks are continuing but provided no specifics.
Analysts say that a licensing deal is crucial for Microsoft but that the company is deliberately de-emphasizing Java to promote its competing OLE architecture for building small, self-contained applications that can be transmitted easily over the Internet.
"Microsoft got some political mileage out of saying they'd license [Java]," said Dwight Davis, editor of Windows Watcher, an industry newsletter. "As time has gone on they've gotten more dubious about Java. But the fact is that Java has so much momentum that it's critical that they have a Java element for their browser."
Even if the initial alpha release of Internet Explorer 3.0 does not include Java, Microsoft will try to woo developers and users with a bevy of other new features, including support for OLE Custom Controls (OCXs). OCXs, which will soon be renamed Active Controls, are Microsoft's equivalent of Java applets. OCXs run in any OLE-compliant application created in Visual Basic or Visual C++ as well as this upcoming version of Internet Explorer.