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No problem, Microsoft says to ruling

Company execs insist they won't have to jump through technology hoops to comply with the judge's Java decision.

Company executives insist Microsoft will not have to jump through technology hoops to comply with a judge's order to stop selling software that includes an incompatible version of Sun Microsystems' Java computer language.

Both Microsoft and Sun think 90 days is plenty of time for the company to comply with the judge's decision.

"I am confident we can comply with the order," Microsoft group vice president Paul Maritz said yesterday. "While it is a nontrivial piece of work, it is not beyond our capabilities, and we don't believe the cost itself will have a material impact on the overall company financial performance."

An alternative afforded Microsoft is that they may beg out of Java compliance all together, an option with wide-ranging implications given the Redmond, Washington-based firm's desktop dominance. But Microsoft executives were quick to dismiss that recourse--for now.

Sun executives remain confident that Microsoft will comply with the order and remain a provider of Java technology. "If, at this point, Microsoft should stop [supporting Java], you can be sure that Sun will be there to provide a Java environment for Windows 98 and Windows NT," Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software efforts, said yesterday, adding that he thinks it's unlikely that Microsoft will pull out in the first place.

Microsoft, as a whole, has not yet determined how it will comply with the ruling, a company spokesman said today. However, all Microsoft products that use Java must be updated--no small task considering that Internet Explorer has been integrated into present and future versions of the Microsoft Office suite of products, as well as Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000, the new name for what will be the 5.0 version of NT.

The ruling also covers Microsoft's Visual J++ development tool, which includes Java extensions See related story:
Microsoft's holy war on Java that specifically target Windows.

Executives from that division claim they will only need to make three minor changes to the existing product to comply with the ruling.

The most significant change is that Microsoft will add support for the Java Native Interface, or JNI, to the tool. The company originally designed Visual J++ to use an application programming interface called Windows Foundation Classes, or WFC, so that Java applications built with the tool would be tightly linked to Windows.

Now, said Tom Button, director of product management for development tools at Microsoft, the tool will support both. "The judge's order was very specific. We need to add to JNI, but not exclude anything. It does little net harm."

Microsoft must also change Visual J++ so that its default settings target JNI. If developer change the defaults to target WFC, the tool must present a dialog box that makes it clear to developers that their Java code is targeted to run on Windows.

"The ruling that the judge issued was a very mild ruling," said Button. "None of these changes are particularly hard. We're just anxiously awaiting the trial for a permanent ruling."

Button also added that, "Sun's assertion that we were trying to fool developers [into targeting applications to Windows via WFC-only support] is hollow."

However, in documents presented during the trial, Thomas Reardon, a Microsoft executive, wrote in a November 26, 1996 e-mail message that the company should "quietly grow j++ share and assume that people will take advantage of our classes without ever realizing they are building win32-only java apps."

For now, the development tool side of Microsoft sees no reason to alter its Java course going forward. "We don't see any reason to change our business strategy," Button said. "As long as we can innovate, we'll be happy to build products."

Button said Microsoft would "slipstream" the changes into its Visual J++ code, and will most likely post a patch to its Web site within 90 days.

Software developer reaction was mixed on the ruling.

Microsoft had not prepared a contingency plan for this particular outcome, according to Jim Cullinan, a company spokesman, because they believed they would prevail in court.

"We are looking at our options," Cullinan said. "Each of our products has a different development group, and our goal is to comply, unless we need to ask for more time. We're reviewing it now, to see what it would take."

Microsoft will not immediately drop Java as a solution to the injunction, Cullinan said, but long-term support is still up in the air.

"There are several options," said Cullinan. "Right now, we are focused on supporting Java, but that is a long-term business decision, and this is a fast-changing industry."

Maritz did not rule out the option of dropping Java altogether or Microsoft creating its own Java implementation based on the published specification, rather than Sun's code. Hewlett-Packard has taken that course with its own Java Virtual Machine for small devices.

Sun, for one, offered to help programmers in Redmond. "Our engineers think it's absolutely a reasonable timeframe," said Baratz. "We would be more than happy to work with Microsoft to help them comply with this order."

Another sometime Microsoft foe, development tools player Inprise, offered to license its slew of Java-based development tools to Microsoft as a means to gain compliance with the judge's order. The company made its offer from a company user conference in Tokyo.

According to the ruling, the software company must notify customers within 15 days. It also may be allowed to seek an extension to the 90-day period "upon a showing of good cause," according to the judge.

For Microsoft, the clock is ticking.

CNET's Paul Festa and Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.