Microsoft Corp. has ordered the removal of Java applets from its Web sites.
As a result, Webmasters across www.microsoft.com are scrambling to eliminate the more than 570 Java applets in use on the company's different Web pages and sites, according to sources.
"I made the directive for two reasons," said Tim Sinclair, editor-in-chief of Microsoft's busy Web site. "Sometimes they are large and downloading [takes a long time]. And we are looking for better compatibility across browsers and other platforms." Microsoft claims www.microsoft.com gets 121 million hits a day and is growing at a rate of 10 percent a month.
Nonetheless, the ban speaks volumes about Microsoft's ambivalenceif not antipathy toward Java, whose cross-platform promise has attracted a developer following in the hundreds of thousands.
While publicly the company professes plans to be the foremost provider of Java technologies for developers, behind the scenes Java appears to be a thorn in its side that must be plucked out.
Earlier this year, PC Week reported on the Java battles taking place inside the halls of Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus. Sources told PC Week that after months of debates, Chairman and CEO Bill Gates told some of his key strategists in a closed-door meeting to remember that Microsoft has a huge investment in Windows - effectively shutting off a small group of Java supporters hoping to more tightly integrate Java into future operating systems and application development.
While the decision appears to reinforce Microsoft's disdain for Java, many Web sites view Java applets as largely experimental.
"We don't have them on our main pages," said one corporate Webmaster who asked not to be named. "Companies are more wary about putting Java on their sites because some firewalls don't allow the applets through. Corporate IS people are unwilling to let these applets through, but sites that appeal to kids, such as entertainment and game sites, are full of Java applets."
Exactly who ordered the applets removed is a source of some debate. Gates reportedly sent E-mail in mid-August to several executives complaining about a Java applet on his personal Web page. The message appeared to indicate he wanted Java applets off all Microsoft Web sites.
"It was purely my decision," Sinclair said. "Bill's [E-mail] was directed at his personal Web site."
Apparently not all of Microsoft is supporting the new move away from Java applets. Product managers at MSN are being told to look at all possible alternative Internet technologies. If the only solution is to build a Java applet, Webmasters are free to do so, sources said.
Among the Microsoft Web sites that make the heaviest use of Java are the Microsoft Developer Network site, the BackOffice Live site and the Microsoft.com Germany site.
The response from Java creator Sun Microsystems Inc. to Microsoft's decision was blunt.
"They're cutting off their nose to spite their face," said George Paolini, director of corporate marketing for Sun's JavaSoft division. "Trying to eliminate Java is like putting your finger in the dike of a floodgate that [is] open right now."
Microsoft basing its decision on Java performance problems "is a red herring," Paolini added. "That's bogus."
On the flip side, Paolini acknowledged that Sun doesn't use any Windows or ActiveX technology on its own Web site.
"We use technology that we are sure can interoperate with our customers and our suppliers," he said.
"Everything we use is based on the Web. We'd never put ActiveX on our siteone, it's insecure, and two, we can't guarantee that it will interoperate with everything else."