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MS, Sun battle out in the open

The war of words between Microsoft and Sun's JavaSoft division escalates, with each side accusing the other of pursuing a proprietary strategy.

NEW YORK--The war of words between Microsoft (MSFT) and Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) JavaSoft division escalated today, with each side accusing the other of pursuing a proprietary strategy.

The dispute erupted over JavaSoft's "100 percent pure Java" initiative, endorsed by more than 100 computer vendors except Microsoft, which was notably absent from the list. The program will test Java applications to be sure they adhere to JavaSoft's standard and can run on any platform.

Brad Chase, vice president and key Microsoft strategist, said the company did not participate in today's press conference unveiling the Java branding and logo program because it had only learned Tuesday morning of the event. Representatives of Apple Computer, IBM, Netscape, and Oracle, who endorsed the initiative, said they had learned of the event over the weekend but didn't see specs until Monday.

"If Sun wants to go out and make statements about Java's purity, they should back it up," Chase said. "Why don't they put Java in a standards committee? We've done that [with ActiveX]."

JavaSoft president Alan Baratz responded sharply: "That's nothing more than smoke and mirrors intended to say that ActiveX is open, and it's not."

Baratz said Microsoft has submitted only the COM (component object model) and DCOM (distributed COM) portions of ActiveX to a standards body and that low-level protocols require use of other proprietary Microsoft technology. He added that it's too early to submit Java to a standards body because the platform is still evolving. He added that JavaSoft would submit Java at a later time.

The "100 percent pure Java" program runs a single test to ensure that a Java applet or application will run on any Java-compatible Virtual Machine, which various vendors are developing for different platforms.

The program is separate from a suite of 5,000 compatibility tests that Java Virtual Machine licensees must run; that program, it was announced last week, will be included in the 1.1 version of Java Developers Kit.

Baratz said that Microsoft had been invited to join the Java program. But, he said, when Microsoft learned it could submit its Java applications for certification under the program regardless of its participation in the 100 percent initiative, it decided not to endorse JavaSoft at the news conference.

JavaSoft is trying to differentiate between Microsoft's role in creating a Java Virtual Machine for Windows and the way it's pushing ActiveX.

"Microsoft has done exactly what we licensed them to do: build a great implementation of the Java platform for Windows," Baratz said. "But they have developed extensions [to Java] that are what we call 'proprietary lock-ins,' and that's not in the spirit of the Java initiative."

After a similar dispute erupted at the giant Comdex trade show last month, JavaSoft officials said Microsoft had assured them that Microsoft "marketing people" had spoken incorrectly. JavaSoft also said at that time that the "highest level" officials guaranteed that Microsoft was fully committed to Java.

Microsoft's Chase echoed that position today. "I have the best compiler in the marketplace, the fastest Virtual Machine, and I totally and completely support people that want to work cross-platform," Chase told CNET. "We also allow Java applets to talk to Windows services, and that's good for developers. It's fully compatible with Java standards from Sun."