Microsoft to reinstate Java in Windows

In an about-face triggered by Sun's recent antitrust lawsuit, Microsoft says it will reinstate the ability to run Java programs in Windows XP.

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In an about-face, Microsoft said Tuesday that it will reinstate the ability to run Java programs in Windows XP.

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Microsoft said it would include its own Java software in the Service Pack 1 update to Windows XP due late this summer. In the long term, though, the company plans to remove Java from Windows altogether.

The reinstatement is a partial victory for Java inventor and Microsoft rival Sun Microsystems, which in the 1990s had hoped people would use the cross-platform language to write programs capable of running on any computer, regardless of the operating system used by the machine.

Jim Cullinan, Microsoft's lead product manager for Windows, said Microsoft will ship its own JVM, written in 1997 and based on version 1.1.4 of Java. Sun wants Microsoft to ship the more modern version, currently 1.4. Sun offers a download option on its Web page.

Sun said it was happy Microsoft decided to ship Java once again but said the company simply was trying to manipulate antitrust legal proceedings while trying to discourage programmers from supporting Java in the longer term.

"If (Microsoft) were truly interested in serving the interests of consumers and software developers, Microsoft would distribute a current and compatible Java (software), rather than an outdated and incompatible one," Sun said in a statement. "The timing of Microsoft's announcement--which comes the day before closing arguments in the states' remedies proceedings in Washington, D.C.--also underscores that Microsoft decision is calculated to serve its litigation interests rather than the interests of consumers and software developers."

Faced with serious legal challenges by the Justice Department, several states, Sun, AOL Time Warner and others, Microsoft has adopted a strategy that indicates the company thinks it might be better to bend than to break. In response to legal pressure in a federal antitrust suit, Microsoft is working to make it easier for customers to install third-party "middleware" such as Web browsers, media players or instant-messaging programs in Windows instead of having to use Microsoft's versions of these programs.

But the federal antitrust actions began four years ago and have the potential to drag on for years more. Some believe Microsoft is winning the war of attrition.

Microsoft doesn't lose much from the move but can gain by making itself appear more accommodating and interested in helping out computer users, Gartner analyst David Smith said.

"It's a very minor concession; it's not going to hurt them much at all," Smith said, adding that Microsoft still isn't a Java convert.

The move comes one day before closing arguments begin in the remedy hearing involving the software giant and nine states that didn't agree with the Justice Department's settlement. The timing of Tuesday's move "is not a coincidence," Smith said.

Sun's March antitrust lawsuit against the software titan triggered the change, Cullinan said.

The suit accuses Microsoft of trying to use its desktop computer dominance to take over the server market, where Sun is strong. The suit seeks, among other things, to have Microsoft include in Windows Sun's Java virtual machine (JVM), software that lets a computer run Java programs.

"Microsoft's attempts to blame these decisions on Sun are absurd," Sun said. During settlement discussions for the last Java spat, "Sun tried as hard as it could to persuade Microsoft to ship the most current Java technology. Microsoft flatly refused."

Microsoft decided in April 2001 not to ship a Java virtual machine, instead adding a "download-on-demand" feature that Sun said in its antitrust suit violated settlement terms of an earlier Java legal dispute between the two companies.

Microsoft plans to remove the download-on-demand option "to take an issue off the table with the current legal action by Sun," Cullinan said, and therefore is including its JVM as the "best way to minimize any disruption" to customers. Java is used on some Web pages.

Cullinan said Microsoft told both Sun and the court of its decision.

The terms of the settlement of the earlier Java suit gave Microsoft the right to ship its Java software in new products through Jan. 2, 2004, and in existing products through Jan. 2, 2008. Microsoft, meanwhile, is working on software similar to Java, including the C# programming language (pronounced "C-sharp") and accompanying software to let C# programs run on a variety of computing devices.

"For the next year and a half, we are going to include (the JVM) in Windows XP. Then we'll make the changes to make sure that moving forward, we don't put Windows or our customers at risk," Cullinan said, saying that the settlement prohibits Microsoft from updating the software to fix potential future security risks.

Cullinan also said Microsoft disagrees with Sun's assertion that its download-on-demand option violates the settlement of the earlier Java dispute.

Including Java gives Microsoft some legal fodder in its argument that it's complying with the legal requirement to make it easier to remove Microsoft middleware.

Sun's antitrust suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., draws heavily on an appeals court decision to uphold a finding a year ago that Microsoft illegally maintained its monopoly in desktop operating systems. Some experts believe Sun may have bitten off more than it can chew with its very broad suit.