Apple may be about to walk into a wall of angry comment from Java experts, after it today announced its intention to follow Microsoft's example and open the whole of the Apple programming interface to Java.
"It isn't the same thing that Microsoft is trying to do," protested Jim Gable, vice president of platform and technology marketing, as he unveiled Apple's road map for future operating systems in London today. "The difference is that while we're providing a route to our 'Yellow Box' [next-generation, also known as Rhapsody] operating environment, we are also supporting the 100% Pure Java initiative. Microsoft is not... if you use their Java for Windows, you are locked into Windows with the applications [you produce].'"
Some purists, it seems, may well reject this approach. Marimba founder Arthur van Hoff on a visit to London today said that there was "essentially no difference" between the Apple and Microsoft plans.
But van Hoff added that neither was, in itself, an evil act. "We don't see a problem with Microsoft or Apple making it possible to use Java to write applications for their platforms," he said. "Where we'd reject the philosophy of opening up the complete API is if they offered only one way of compiling the code - for their own platform."
Yellow Box is Apple's future operating system, not due out this year, and code-named Rhapsody. The company will unveil a parallel, dual-OS strategy later this month, with the current Mac OS reaching version 8 at the August Macworld Expo in Boston.
The Mac OS will continue into the foreseeable future, says Apple, in much the same way that Windows 95 will continue for some years, but the difference between Rhapsody and Windows NT is that Apple has committed itself to run Mac OS in what it calls a 'Blue Box', as part of the 'Yellow Box' operating environment. Yellow Box code will include a Java virtual machine which Apple says will be by far the fastest generally available.
Van Hoff, one of the designers of Java at Sun, said that the language will easily outlive the arrival of platform-specific compilers. His view appears to be that Microsoft cannot succeed in making Java a Windows-only platform. and neither can Apple succeed in producing a Mac-only Java. If they do, van Hoff says, the price the companies will pay will be the alienation of programmers.