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HP, Dell to ship Java with PCs

The deals to ship Sun's Java technology in all the PC makers' machines are a poke in the eye for Microsoft, which has been lackluster in its support for the software.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems signed deals Wednesday under which Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard will ship Java technology on all PCs, a move that bypasses Microsoft's reluctance to distribute the software.

The deals were signed on Wednesday morning, Sun executives announced at the company's JavaOne trade show here. Bitter rivals Microsoft and Sun have tangled for years over Java, which reduces the importance of the Windows operating system as a foundation for other programs. Microsoft has been fighting to remove the technology from Windows XP.

"We're doing our best to make sure Java is absolutely everywhere," said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Sun's software group, speaking to Java loyalists at the show. "Microsoft pulling Java from Windows caused no small amount of frustration."

Java, a programming language and supporting software, lets a program run on a variety of different systems without having to be changed for each one. Though it hasn't displaced Windows as a foundation for running desktop computers, it is popular now in two domains where Microsoft isn't as strong: in servers and, increasingly, in mobile phones.

Sun has been trying for years to get PC makers to sell machines with built-in Java. Apple Computer--no great ally of Microsoft--had previously been the highest-profile company to do so.

HP will start incorporating Java in models in the third quarter. It expects to have the software installed across its entire desktop and laptop line within about a year, spokeswoman Tiffany Smith said.

"We wanted to make sure that we provide a seamless experience for our customers to continue having Java support, so they can have the best Web experience possible. We needed to find another supplier, and Sun offered a very compelling package," Smith said.

For its part, Dell expects to ship Java on all desktops, laptops and workstations by the end of the year, spokesman Cody Pinkston said. The PC maker said it licensed Java because it wanted to ensure that its customers' Web surfing would be as disruption-free as possible.

Despite this, Pinkston said Dell doesn't have plans to participate in a new Java branding campaign, under which Sun is trying to attach Java logos to products that incorporate the software.

Analysts greeted the PC makers' moves as a response to Microsoft's lackluster backing for Java.

"Dell and HP are acknowledging a simple fact: Java is everywhere on the Internet," said Illuminata analyst David Freund. "Given Microsoft's stated intent to stop providing a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) at the beginning of 2004, PC vendors naturally want to ensure that their customers can access Web sites and run Java-based applications without having to find some obscure widget with a three-letter acronym--in this case, JVM--somewhere first."

Wheeling and dealing
Negotiations for the deals went through the night, according to Sun's Schwartz. The Dell agreement was signed at about 3 a.m. PDT Wednesday; the HP agreement at 9 a.m.

Schwartz, who predicted the partnerships last week, thanked HP employees in the JavaOne audience. "On behalf of the Java community, I want to let you know we appreciate the agreement your company and my company signed not two minutes ago to ship Java on all your PCs," he said.

The response from Microsoft to the Dell and HP moves was not conciliatory. It reiterated its position that its removal of Java was triggered by lawsuits with Sun over the technology.

"As part of Microsoft's January 2001 settlement agreement with Sun, Microsoft will no longer be authorized by Sun to support the Microsoft JVM after January 2, 2004. Since Microsoft will not be permitted to provide ongoing support for the Microsoft JVM, including fixes and addressing security issues, we will stop including the Microsoft JVM in new releases of Windows and other products to protect the reliability and security of Windows," the company said in a statement.

The Redmond, Wash-based software giant licensed Java in 1996, but its Windows-only changes to the technology soon led to a legal battle with Sun. While the companies have settled that dispute, those Java changes are at the heart of an ongoing antitrust suit that Sun brought against Microsoft in 2002.

Microsoft has embraced many of the ideas in Java in its C# programming language and its .Net software.

The company indicated that it wouldn't make waves over the Dell and HP agreements. "Computer manufacturers have always been free to license software from third parties for preinstallation on their new machines," it said.

The deals with Dell, HP and Apple are the beginning, Schwartz said in a statement. "We expect that many more PC (manufacturers) and large consumer-application providers will also begin distributing the latest Java Runtime Environment from Sun," he said.

Schwartz now expects that Java applications will "flower once again on the desktop." One area for which he has high hopes is gaming: "Games will obviously be faster. Games will be smoother," he predicted in an interview.

While Microsoft shipped Java for many years, it was a 1997 version that didn't support many newer features. Dell and HP will ship computers with the latest versions of Sun's Java, Sun said.

Spreading Java widely is important, but Sun has technological challenges with Java as well. It's been notoriously slow to launch and has had a comparatively primitive interface.

Sun reduced the time that it takes for Java to launch by 30 percent from version 1.4.0 to the soon-to-be-released 1.4.2, said Curtis Sasaki, vice president of desktop solutions. The new version also will add a look and feel that better matches Windows XP or the GNOME interface for Linux.

The next major version of Java for desktop computers, 1.5, code-named "Tiger," will feature more refinements to grow closer to Windows XP and Linux, Sasaki said.

Version 1.5 will also spread Java's support for the basic set of Web services standards, Sasaki said. Those standards will debut in the server version of Java 1.4, which will be released once the Web Services Basic standard is finalized.

"As good as the move is, however, it's no guarantee for success--it's merely a foot in the door," RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said, adding that Sun and its partners now will have to focus on performance and programming tools. "But you can't build a house without a foundation, and this is the first step."