As a result of a federal judge's ruling against Microsoft this week, the firm will strip a critical Java technology out of the Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser for Apple Computer's Macintosh operating system and the Unix system, a letter sent to IE licensees said Friday.
Microsoft will remove its Java virtual machine, which allows a computer to understand and run Java programs. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer can call on the virtual machines to run Java "applets" downloaded over the Web.
Users, however, will still have other ways to run Java programs in Explorer.
"Internet Explorer 4.x for the Macintosh and for Unix will be re-released without a Microsoft Java Virtual Machine. Instead, users will be directed to the virtual machine already available on the host operating systems," the letter said.
The message stands in sharp contrast to what Microsoft said earlier Friday, when Jeff Raikes, Microsoft's group vice president for sales and support, said Microsoft is "committed to supporting Java for all our customers." But that letter didn't mention that supporting Java for all customers means, among other things, removing Microsoft's Java virtual machine from Macintosh and Unix browsers.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said that Microsoft will in fact support the Java technology on Macintoshes and Unix machines--in this case by rewriting Internet Explorer so that Java programs will look somewhere else besides Internet Explorer to find a virtual machine. There are plenty of other sources, he noted, mentioning Apple's Java virtual machine.
Some industry sources claim, however, that Apple has been planning to drop Microsoft's Java virtual machine anyway and that this isn't a new development.
Netscape Communications' Navigator, a competing Web browser, comes with a separate Java virtual machine.
Cullinan said it wasn't clear at this point whether future versions of Internet Explorer on the Macintosh or Unix will have their own virtual machines. A beta version of Internet Explorer 5 for Windows is available now.
The letter to licensees Friday also said Microsoft would be releasing new versions of Internet Explorer 4 for Windows and "patches" to fix old versions so that they have a virtual machine that complies with the court's preliminary injunction.
Cullinan said it is too technically difficult to write a virtual machine for a relatively unfamiliar operating system in the 90-day span of time allotted by the court.
In the letter posted to the public earlier Friday, Microsoft tried to reassure Windows customers that they wouldn't have to change their existing products.
"I want to assure you that, as a current Windows 98 user, this preliminary ruling has no affect [sic] on you and your continuing use of Microsoft Windows products that incorporate support for the Java programming language," Microsoft vice president of platforms Paul Maritz said in the letter.
The ruling, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose, California, found that Sun Microsystems stood a strong likelihood of prevailing against Microsoft on copyright and unfair competition claims in a suit concerning the Java programming language.
The ruling gives Microsoft 90 days to add a Sun technology called JNI, or Java Native Interface, to the software giant's Java virtual machine and Visual J++ Java development tools. It also requires Microsoft to make Sun's version of Java--using JNI--the default setting on products that software developers use to write Java applications. The ruling does not require Microsoft to recall any products that already have been shipped.
"There's some confusion by the customers. People are worried about whether this injunction has any impact on them," Tom Burt, Microsoft's associate general counsel, said in an interview. "The changes being made to Windows [are] all completely invisible to end users, so there's no impact at all on consumers."
He stressed that Windows 98 and Internet Explorer will continue to support the same applications even after the modifications.
Under the ruling, Microsoft must announce publicly exactly how it intends to comply with the order by early December. Burt said Microsoft was "on track" with that schedule, and that the company is working hard to ensure that the plan would have no effect on computer users or channel partners.
The letter to licensees, though, said distributors must make "reasonable efforts to cease reproduction and distribution of the older version of Internet Explorer and promptly commence reproduction and distribution of the new version, provided that you may deplete existing inventory."