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Microsoft extends support for its Java machine

The company will continue to support its Java Virtual Machine through September 2004, a nine-month extension that will make it easier for customers to find substitutes for the software.

Microsoft will continue to support its Java Virtual Machine through September 2004, a nine-month extension that will make it easier for customers to find substitutes for the software.

The extension was largely implemented for the convenience of the software-buying world, according to representatives from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. Microsoft has recently been encouraging customers to eliminate its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) from their desktops, notebooks and servers pursuant to an out-of-court settlement with Sun, but the transition is taking longer than anticipated.

During the additional nine months, Microsoft will continue to provide technical support and patches while customers seek a replacement for the software giant's JVM. Microsoft and Sun have also agreed to provide links to sites where consumers can download non-Microsoft JVMs. A JVM essentially lets a computer run programs written in Java.

"While (computer users) are migrating to alternate solutions, they would like Microsoft to support" the older technology, said Chris Jones, vice president of the Windows Client Division at Microsoft.

"We are out of the JVM business," he added.

Microsoft released its JVM in 1997 and began to spread it through the market by including it in a number of products, including Windows 2000, Windows 98 and a version of Windows XP.

At the same time, however, the software was at the center of a lawsuit between Microsoft and Sun, with Sun arguing that the Microsoft JVM unfairly altered how computers would use Java. The two came to a settlement in January 2001. In the settlement, Microsoft agreed to phase out its JVM and terminate support by Jan. 1, 2004.

Even after the settlement, sparks continued to fly between the two companies over the issue. Microsoft didn't include its JVM in the first version of Windows XP, but then inserted it in the first major update in 2002. In January, a Maryland court ordered Microsoft to eliminate it in 120 days.

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A subsequent court ruling then placed a stay on the order from the Maryland court, but Sun managed to blunt some of the impact of Microsoft's tactics by getting Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other PC companies to bundle Sun's JVM on their PCs.

Despite the longstanding acrimony between the two companies, both indicated that the negotiations over the extension, which required that Sun issue a new maintenance license to Microsoft, went relatively smoothly.

"We were able to come to a conclusion surprisingly quickly," said Jones.

Microsoft, of course, is putting its muscle behind programming language C# and .Net architecture, which it believes will become strong alternatives to Java.

Sun, on the other hand, gains from the agreement because it will potentially defuse any customer dissatisfaction with Java that comes out of a rocky transition. However, Web sites that continue to run Microsoft's JVM will not be completely compatible with PCs running other JVMs.

Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.