Tech Industry

MS rivals unified on Java

The "100 percent pure Java" tour is supposed to be about promoting Java, but it turned out more like a Microsoft-bashing fest.

SAN FRANCISCO, California--Java makes for interesting bedfellows.

Though they're often intense rivals in the intranet software market, a quartet of leading high-tech companies--IBM (IBM), Netscape Communications (NSCP), Sun Microsystems (SUNW), and Novell (NOVL)--put aside their competitive instincts today to try and chip away at Microsoft.

More specifically, today's event--the first stop in a worldwide Java educational tour for developers--was aimed at preventing Java from splintering into a collection of incompatible technologies. Dubbing its efforts the "100 percent pure Java" campaign, Sun and its partners hope to stamp out what they see as Microsoft's attempt to hijack Java and turn it into a Windows-only technology.

Indeed, executives from Sun, Netscape, and IBM today weren't shy about bashing Microsoft.

"All of a sudden, no one company is in charge," said Scott McNealy, chief executive officer of Sun. "I think getting rid of monopolies is a good thing."

McNealy delivered his own variation on a David Letterman standard, a top-ten list of reasons why users should use ActiveX controls. Reason #4: "You want to build up your immune system by downloading viruses."

ActiveX is a Microsoft technology that, like Java, allows users to download and run miniature applications from the Internet. Microsoft has urged developers to combine ActiveX with their Java programs, but Sun and other companies fear that Microsoft is attempting to undermine the platform-independence of Java.

"It's the reaction of a person with a monopoly trying to pull other people back into their cave," said Jim Barksdale, president and CEO of Netscape. "It's not for the good of mankind that they?re making these modifications."

Because Java runs on any platform regardless of the underlying operating system or hardware, many companies believe that the technology will weaken Microsoft's grip on the software industry.

Alan Baratz, the head of Sun's JavaSoft division, said today that attempts to tie Java to a single platform would backfire. "We encourage all Java licensees to innovate, but to create innovations that are cross-platform," Baratz said. "Occasionally, there is innovation that is not cross platform. That's their business, but that's playing with fire."

Microsoft had gotten its own digs in yesterday when it accused Sun of deliberately preventing some Java applications from running on its Internet Explorer. Yesterday Sun denied the charge, but Baratz implied that Microsoft would be punished if it didn't go along with the Java flow. (See related story)

Baratz said that a beta version of a program that certifies Java applets as "100 percent pure" would be available next month.

Even as companies promote the wonders of Java, most of them have yet to rewrite all of their applications in the language. Netscape, for example, runs Java but has not rewritten its Communicator client software in Java, although Barksdale, in an interview with CNET today, said that efforts are under way to do so.

Some companies, such as IBM, say they are not far from making Java an integral part of all of their enterprise products. John Thompson, senior vice president of IBM Software, said today that the company has 1,000 developers in 24 labs around the world doing around-the-clock Java programming. Thompson also pointed out that the company is creating a set of productivity applications in Java, code-named Kona.

But the companies still have a long way to go before Java applications approach the prevalence of Windows applications in businesses and on desktops. Still, in presenting a unified Java front, Sun and its partners hoped to instill confidence in developers that Java is improving and that it will remain cross-platform.

"Every institution, every business will be changed by [Java]," said Thompson. "It's as fundamental as the electric light bulb or motor."