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The masters of spin are at it again

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy says Microsoft's decision to exclude the Java Virtual Machine in Windows XP had less to do with the law than it had to do with spin.

If you've read even one article about Microsoft you probably already know that everything the company does is in the interest of consumer convenience.

Well, that's the spin, anyway.

As a consumer interested in convenience, you have to ask yourself: Why is Microsoft coming out with a new version of Windows that doesn't include a popular feature called the Java Virtual Machine?

Don't they want you to have access to the 7 million Web pages running Java "applets" (small applications) throughout the Internet--on sites ranging from The Associated Press to the New York Stock Exchange, the Social Security Administration and BMW?

Don't they want software developers to be able to write programs that will run on any computer you choose to buy (one of the key benefits of Java technology)?

Microsoft can try to spin the answers from now until judgment day, but it's clear that the world's biggest software company didn't have your best interests in mind--to say nothing of those of the millions of developers who use Java technology to ensure compatibility across diverse computing platforms.

I find all this particularly interesting, because Java technology is an innovation from Sun Microsystems, the company I co-founded. I was especially interested to learn that Sun was to blame for what happened.

Well, again, that's the spin.

Microsoft has implied in the press that removing the Java Virtual Machine was a condition of the settlement of our lawsuit against them. Pardon my French, but that's bullspin.

We did, indeed, sue Microsoft for breach of contract, not long after we licensed the technology to them. (They flunked compatibility requirements.) In the end, they paid us $20 million and asked permission to include the Java Virtual Machine in Windows for seven more years. We said OK; that's good for consumers.

The decision to remove Java technology was Microsoft's alone. The real reason, I suspect, is to give you the same kind of choice Henry Ford offered to buyers of the Model T: "Any color you want, as long as it's black."

You can call that my attempt at spin if you want, but here's the thing: Microsoft's attempts to impede innovations such as Java technology have been well documented. They're part of the voluminous record in the landmark antitrust conviction--upheld by all seven judges of the appeals court--for which Microsoft now awaits sentencing.

Despite Microsoft's efforts to limit the distribution of Java technology, now or in the past six years, Java's popularity keeps growing.

According to Evans Data Corporation, the Java programming language will surpass both Microsoft's Visual Basic and C++ next year to become the most popular language in use by developers. Software based on Java technology continues to roll out from hundreds of companies, including many of the most recognized names in the industry.

IBM, Oracle, Sony, Motorola, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, Ericsson, Philips, Matsushita, Palm, BEA and Cisco (to name just a few) are active participants in extending the technology through an industrywide initiative known as the Java Community Process--and they continue to distribute Java Virtual Machines.

What's more, Java technology is being incorporated into everything from the tiniest gadgets to the biggest back-end servers--in 5 million wireless phones and 96 percent of all application servers sold today.

Meanwhile, we continue to see strong demand for cross-platform Java technology from both developers and end users on Windows. That's why we provide a high-quality, high-performance version of the virtual machine for Windows as part of the latest Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition. And we will continue to provide top-quality Windows support in the future.

Java technology's value--write once, run anywhere--is too compelling for any single company to stop. What Microsoft can do is try to slow it down by making it harder for you to obtain and use the technology--while trying to convince you that black is the only color you could possibly want.