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MS, Sun battle for Java

If Java achieved a kind of religious stature among developers in 1996, then Microsoft was the universally vilified heretic of the new church.

If Java achieved a kind of religious stature among developers in 1996, then Microsoft was the universally vilified heretic of the new church.

At Internet World earlier this month, the software giant became the implied target of something resembling a Java Reformation when Sun, along with more than 70 other vendors, launched a "100 percent pure Java" campaign. Although it was not specifically mentioned as the target, the initiative was largely intended to arrest perceived efforts by Microsoft to "contaminate" Java with proprietary Windows extensions.

Microsoft's extensions to Java were based on ActiveX, a broad set of technologies that forms the foundation of the company's Internet strategy. Unlike Java applets, which run on any operating system, ActiveX programs or controls work primarily on Windows. Controls can be written in any language, including C or C++.

But since April, when Microsoft announced a Windows Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that exploited ActiveX, the company has steadily begun evangelizing that developers create their Java applets using ActiveX APIs, a combination that could sacrifice the platform independence of Java programs. It is the mixture of the two technologies--ActiveX and Java--that provided much of the impetus for Sun's 100 percent Pure Java campaign.

Interestingly, the campaign was announced almost exactly a year after Microsoft originally announced that it would license Java from Sun and become the creator of the reference platform for Java on Windows. At its Internet strategy briefing on December 7, 1995, Microsoft also vowed to "embrace and extend" Internet standards, a pledge which underlay its later efforts to promote ActiveX and Java as a winning combination for developers.

Although Sun's relationship with Microsoft was tumultuous throughout 1996, Java also owed a good deal of its success to Microsoft, as well as Netscape Communications.

In September of 1995, Netscape released the first Java-enabled version of Navigator, the program through which most users would come to experience Java applets. But in April of 1996, Sun embarked on a different deployment strategy for Java and began licensing the technology to operating system vendors, including Microsoft, Apple Computer, IBM, and a host of other companies.

As the most popular PC platform on the planet, Windows remained a critical part of Sun's efforts to spread Java across the globe, and Microsoft was an important long-term partner for the company.

Even though its Java engine contained the loathed ActiveX extensions, Microsoft introduced what was widely regarded as the fastest, most stable JVM for 32-bit Windows when it released Internet Explorer 3.0 in August. The company finalized a visual Java development tool, Visual J++, in October. Microsoft also partnered with Metrowerks to produce a much praised JVM for the Macintosh, a platform that suffered from poor Java support.

Meanwhile, Microsoft made attempts to deflect criticism that ActiveX was closed and confined to Windows. In October, the company committed to submitting pieces of the technology to a standards organization, The Open Group, and to provide ActiveX on Macintosh and Unix.

Perhaps for these reasons, Sun tolerated Microsoft's efforts to push ActiveX to the growing ranks of Java developers. It was only this month at Internet World that Sun's tolerance apparently dried up.

Predictions for 1997
"Microsoft has been spending the year trying to make sure the Internet doesn't kill them. It's a major change from a year ago. Everybody was ready to count them out. I find it absolutely fascinating how they say they're an active Java supporter. All they're doing is figuring out ways to neutralize it. If you're going to use Java, use Activex, use DirectX."
--David Smith, research director of Internet strategies at the Gartner Group

"[In 1997], I don't think we'll see a lot of Java developers use [ActiveX]. We'll continue to see Windows developers in a big way. I would equate a Java developer with someone who is trying to do cross-platform work?Maybe the most significant thing about Java this year was that it was taken up so quickly by some many developers. It was born as a technology push, but the market pull seems to have exceeded the fondest wishes of the pushers. New languages usually take forever to get adopted even when they're the greatest thing in the world."
--Ira Machevsky, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group

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