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Gates says Java no Holy Grail

Bill Gates says Java is just another programming language, which Microsoft will support as it has others.

SAN FRANCISCO--From Microsoft's (MSFT) perspective, Java is just another programming language.

Last night, Bill Gates, chief executive officer and chairman of Microsoft, told an audience at the Software Developer 97 conference that his company is committed to providing the same level of support for Java that it has provided for other languages, such as C++. The SD 97 conference is taking place adjacent to the JavaOne developer conference here.

"Our goal is very simple: to deliver the fastest, most functional Java technology," Gates said.

The likening of Java to C++ is a controversial one within the industry, particularly among Java's most passionate supporters, Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communications. Those companies maintain that Java is much more than a language since the technology also includes a virtual machine, the program that runs Java applets or applications through a browser or an operating system.

The virtual machine functions almost like a miniature operating system in itself, freeing developers from creating applications for specific operating systems such as Windows 95, Macintosh, or Unix.

But tonight, Gates focused primarily on Java's attributes as a programming language, not as a technology that could ultimately

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates speaks at the Software Developer 97 conference
Photo by Donald R. Winslow, CNET
weaken the importance of Windows 95 and NT by allowing applications to run on any desktop OS. He also tried to deflate some of the marketing hype describing the way developers constantly search for the Holy Grail of programming.

"Ever since I've been programming, there's been this search for the perfect programming language," Gates said. "Was it LISP, was it Smalltalk?"

Still, Gates acknowledged that Java has attracted the attention of developers interested in writing completely platform-independent applications. He called this the "least common denominator" approach to programming because such Java programs are prevented from having full access to the capabilities of the underlying operating system.

"They've been saying it's just another language since day one," said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner Group. "Microsoft has no intention of changing their strategy. They're just fitting Java into it."

Gates also said that Microsoft has tried to make Java run well on Windows 3.1, still one of the most popular desktop operating systems, but that applications will always run slow on the platform. "The 16-bit environment will never run Java applications in an adequate fashion."

Gates was introduced by Tod Nielsen, general manager of developer relations at Microsoft, who made light of the recent security incidents that have hit Internet Explorer. Nielsen provided a list of top ten things he learned about security in the last month. First on the list was, "According to the National Enquirer, O.J. is an ActiveX programmer."