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McNealy: Don't let Microsoft steal the Net

Programmers are on the front lines in the battle to keep Microsoft from taking over the standards that underlie the Internet, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy tells the loyalists at JavaOne.

SAN FRANCISCO--Programmers are on the front lines in the battle to keep Microsoft from taking over the standards that underlie the Internet, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy told loyalists of Sun's Java software Tuesday.

McNealy often criticizes Microsoft, whose popular Windows software ensures it a legion of supporting programmers. But during his JavaOne keynote speech, McNealy turned up the volume, saying the struggle is for nothing less than the future of humanity.

"I need your help. Mankind needs your help," said a somber McNealy of efforts to secure Java's future.

McNealy, somewhat more subdued than in many of his keynotes, vowed to move off the stage as quickly as possible so programmers could get back to learning about Java technology. "I don't know why I'm up here, being a golf major," he quipped.

Java--a programming language combined with software to run those programs on a wide variety of computing devices and operating systems--has become popular with banks and other major customers as a way to power Internet services. But Sun is locked in a struggle with Microsoft, which is trying to lure programmers and customers to its competing, and proprietary, .Net products.

Meanwhile, Sun has a resurgent IBM to contend with. Big Blue's Unix servers are stealing market share away from Sun, and IBM's Java server software has much better market share than Sun's.

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McNealy--Java better for Web services
Scott McNealy, CEO, Sun Microsystems
But at the JavaOne conference, where programmers are ascendant, McNealy focuses chiefly on the rival in Redmond.

The standards underlying the Internet currently are open, but McNealy said he fears Microsoft will try to modify them to weave its products inextricably into the Internet's fabric. "I want everybody to be aware of the opportunity for very large monopolists to hijack open APIs," he said, referring to the application programming interfaces that govern how programs draw upon standard services such as requesting a Web page.

McNealy illustrated his fears of Microsoft dominance by talking about his wife's attempt to buy groceries online using the Netscape Web browser. McNealy presented the warning message she received: "The Safeway.com site is optimized for use with the Internet Explorer Web browser. Other browsers, such as Netscape, are not supported."

"This is Safeway. This is where you get your food," McNealy said. "I think it's a pretty important site to keep open out in the marketplace."

Microsoft said McNealy should worry more about his own customers' needs than about Microsoft. "McNealy remains fixated on Microsoft rather than on Sun's customers and their technologies," said John Montgomery, group product manager for Microsoft's .Net Developer Platform.

"McNealy's rhetoric about hijacking open standards is ironic, given the long history Sun has with shrouding themselves in openness while running proprietary software," Montgomery added, referring to Sun's Solaris version of the Unix operating system and its attempts to advocate the NeWS windowing system for Unix when others advocated X Windows.

Programmers are the ones who must keep Microsoft at bay, McNealy said. They should test their Web sites with several Web browsers, he said, and beware the appeal of the latest software development kit from Microsoft--the conduit through which Microsoft spreads its software standards.

"The first hit of heroin is free," McNealy said.

At the same time, McNealy warned of problems within the Java community as well: running server software written in Java that works on one company's Java environment--called an "application server"--but not another's.

The issue has surfaced with a new programming tool from BEA Systems, tied for first place with IBM in the app server market.

To help ameliorate the situation, Sun announced on Monday the Application Verification Kit, software that checks a program to make sure it will work on any application server. The kit doesn't preclude tuning for one particular app server, said enterprise Java marketing manager Milena Volkova, but does ensure the program is portable.

"If you're writing to an app server, use the AVK and test on one other app server...just to make sure you haven't grabbed some proprietary extension or written outside the Java 2 Enterprise Edition specifications," McNealy said.

Meanwhile, Sun and a key open-source group, the Apache Software Foundation, announced Tuesday that they reconciled a nagging disagreement that had been making it difficult for open-source groups to participate in the Java Community Process by which Sun and others govern the future of Java.

Under the agreement, hashed out Friday under a deadline to resolve the issue by JavaOne, open-source implementations of Java standards are permitted, said Jason Hunter, the Apache representative in the Java Community Process. Apache, along with components such as Jakarta for running Java on servers, is a major feature in the landscape of server software, and Sun wanted Apache's cooperation.

Without the agreement, "Apache was going to have to abandon support for the JCP, because Apache needed to be legal," Hunter said in an interview.

Apache was in the peculiar situation of having help from Sun engineers but warnings from Sun legal staff. "You can't have the left hand helping and the right hand telling us it's illegal," Hunter said.

Sun also will provide compatibility-kit software to ensure the open-source work complies with Java standards and will pay via scholarships for some support to perform the compatibility testing.