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Sun, Microsoft fight over Java

Microsoft says it's a big fan of Java but still doesn't see eye to eye with rival Sun.

Microsoft now says it's one of Java's biggest fans, but the software giant and Sun Microsystems still aren't seeing eye to eye on a potentially significant related issue.

The disagreement concerns how Java applets will interoperate each other, as well as software components from architectures such as OpenDoc, Component Object Model (COM), and Netscape Communications' LiveConnect framework.

Sun--which announced an interoperability initiative this week called Java Beans--is accusing Microsoft of being up to its old tricks, pursuing a Windows-specific path by linking Java closely to its COM-based ActiveX architecture.

"The difference between Java Beans and ActiveX is that [Java Beans] is architecture-neutral," said David Spenhoff, director of product marketing at JavaSoft. "There's no lock-in to ActiveX. It's a purely architecture neutral model."

Microsoft, on the other hand, claims that it's providing what developers want most: bridges between the most popular component architectures and Java. To do that, Microsoft is developing a just-in-time compiler--due out this summer with the next beta of Internet Explorer 3.0--that will link Java applets with ActiveX controls. For example, a Java applet could be written to animate a screen object, like a stock ticker, linked by an ActiveX control to a back-end database that feeds real data.

Microsoft thinks that the hurried decision to announce Java Beans this week was a reaction to a demonstration to Sun engineers of its just-in-time compiler.

"It looks like [Sun] listened closely and took notice [of what we're doing with Java and ActiveX]," said Cornelius Willis, group product manager for Internet developer marketing. "It looks like we got their attention."

Both sides agreed that interoperability between Java applets and other components will become more important because developers want to incorporate existing software programs, written in languages other than Java, into larger Internet applications, analysts said. The Java Bean initiative appears to be a recognition of that fact.

"To me, [Java Beans] was a writing's-on-the-wall kind of thing," said Stephan Somogyi, senior editor at Digital Media. "All Java Beans is is a clear understanding that Java doesn't exist as an island."

Sun's Java Beans will eventually create software bridges between Java applets and a broad range of component architectures. The plan received endorsements from IBM, Borland International, Netscape Communications, Lotus Development, Oracle, and Symantec.

Microsoft says thousands of companies have expressed support for Microsoft's ActiveX.

Java Beans supporters will begin interoperability testing between Java and other component architectures later this year, with commercial availability of specific implementations expected in 1997.

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