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Microsoft switches to decaf

Microsoft does not use Java on its Support Online Web site, contrary to information in the site's FAQ sheet.

    Microsoft (MSFT) does not use Java on its Support Online Web site, contrary to information in the site's FAQ sheet.

    Company representatives reported and fixed the error today, but not until the support site's manager mistakenly confirmed yesterday that Java was necessary to register for the site. Support Online is Microsoft's free technical support area.

    As previously reported, the company instituted a registration process as of last week that adds a cookie to the user's hard drive. To access the support database, users must register and then accept the cookie.

    The FAQ (frequently asked questions) sheet said the site required a Java-enabled browser, when in fact it should have said "JavaScript."

    "There are no Java applets on the site, only JavaScript," a Microsoft spokeswoman wrote in an email. "The site is consistent with the rest of Microsoft's Web site, which has chosen not to use Java applets."

    The software giant admitted last month that it was purging Java from its Web site, although Microsoft.com editor Tim Sinclair said at the time he would keep Java on a "case-by-case basis where it makes good business sense."

    JavaScript--also known as ECMA Script--is a lightweight language, or script, that lets developers add interactive features such as pop-up windows to a Web page. Invented by Netscape and recently ratified as a Web standard, JavaScript has no relation to Java, although developers often use JavaScript to pass information from the browser interface to underlying Java code.

    The language in the FAQ sheet has since been corrected, but other issues remain. Users now must register basic personal information that Microsoft says it will use to customize the support options for each user.

    "We moved to registration because more than 100,000 people a day use the Web site, and we don't know enough about our customers to give them exactly what they want," said Support Online product manager Denise Rundle. None of the information will be sold to third parties, she added.

    The registration page features a check box that if left unchecked will result in the user receiving email about Microsoft products and promotions, which is a common practice on commercial Web sites.

    The added requirements on the Microsoft site come at a time when many companies are looking to Web-based tech support to supplant the more expensive "live-operator" customer support.

    In addition to the registration, users must allow the site to place a cookie on their PCs. Cookies are files that a Web site puts on users' hard drive that store information about their visits. In this case, the Support Online site stores a viewer's preferences so that the site will be customized on subsequent visits. A second Microsoft spokeswoman noted yesterday that the convenience of storing information in a cookie outweighs the privacy concerns in this case.

    "We acknowledge that it's a touchy subject for a lot of people," she said. "But because it will end up saving them time in the long run, we don't think it'll be a big deal."