At the same time that it intensifies a campaign to push its ActiveX technology for Internet component software, Microsoft bowed to the inevitable at its Professional Developers Conference today in San Francisco and licensed Sun Microsytems's Java programming language for the Net.
The agreement finalizes a process initiated last December when Microsoft agreed to license Java but didn't actually sign anything. How the Redmond, Washington-based company would play its hand on Java had been a subject of intense speculation since that time, and some analysts suggested that Microsoft was deliberately stalling when negotiations appeared to stagnate. Many industry observers say Java, which allows developers to create applets that run on any platform, could potentially undermine Microsoft's control of the desktop applications market.
Despite the agreement, Microsoft still isn't letting up on its promotion of its own OLE-based ActiveX components, which, like Java applets, are small, single-purpose applications that can be downloaded and run over the Internet. In fact, the Developers Conference was largely an ActiveX convention. But Microsoft, ever the master at hedging its bets, has decided not only to support Java in its Internet Explorer browser but to try to dominate the Java development tools market. Its strategy now appears to be trying to out-Java Java promoters like Sun and Netscape.
The company intends to release by mid-1996 an integrated development environment for Java, code-named Jakarta. "Our intent is to become the premier provider of Java development tools," said Cornelius Willis, Microsoft group product manager for Internet development marketing. "We now understand how it fits into our strategy."
Microsoft refuted any suggestion that its invigorated Java strategy conflicts with ActiveX controls, an architecture announced today that allows applets created in Visual Basic, Visual C++, and other development tools to run through Internet Explorer 3.0. Company officials emphasized that ActiveX controls can also be written in Java, and Microsoft will modify the Java engine in Internet Explorer so that it can juggle applets that combine Java and ActiveX.
"We're building interoperability between Java applets and ActiveX controls," Willis said. "These aren't separate worlds. They're totally integrated."
Jakarta is on the Developer Studio interface in Microsoft's Visual C++ development environment. It will feature a debugger, class libraries, and a "just-in-time" compiler, a tool that will allow developers to rev up Java performance by compiling Java applets, or portions of Java applets, on the fly to native machine language--the language that the hardware understands. Java as it is most commonly used now is "interpreted" by the Java Virtual Machine built into development tools and browsers, a feature that lets any machine understand it but slows performance.
Microsoft today also announced that it will incorporate its just-in-time Java compiler into the final release of Internet Explorer 3.0, due for Windows 95 and Macintosh by mid-year. The feature may give the company's browser a performance edge over the slower compiler in Netscape Navigator 2.0.
Borland, Sun, Symantec, Metrowerks, and Natural Intelligence have all indicated that they are working on just-in-time compilers for their respective development environments.
Separately today, America Online is also inking licensing pacts for all of Sun's Java technologies. The company said it will implement Java in its Internet access services but is also initiating a study of how to create Java development tools for producers of AOL's own online content.
The licensing deal is part of several announcements that move AOL closer to the Internet by adopting Internet-centric technologies and offering its proprietary content on different Internet forums. The company also agreed yesterday to offer its content as an option for users of AT&T's WorldNet service