Sun Microsystems has turned up the volume in its long-running battle with Microsoft over Java.
In full-page ads in The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News and The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Sun called on consumers "to demand that Microsoft include the Java platform in their XP operating system". Sun also said consumers should demand that "PC vendors like Dell, Compaq, Gateway, IBM and HP (Hewlett-Packard) include the Java platform in their applications".
At the same time, Sun is quietly developing a new version of its software specifically for Windows XP that it hopes to place on new PCs and make available for download.
Sun's ad attack underscores yet another battle over Windows XP: support for the company's Java programming language. While some critics are complaining about what Microsoft has put into XP--instant messaging and streaming media playback, among other features--Sun is upset about what is being left out: its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) software.
Sun's actions stem from a decision by Microsoft in April to remove Java Virtual Machine from testing versions of Internet Explorer 6, which is integrated into Windows XP and will soon be downloadable for other operating systems. While Microsoft will not ship a JVM with IE 6, one will be available for download the first time a person accesses a Web page requiring Java support. The file is about 5MB.
"I think there is sort of a pile-on going on with people trying to get their name on some sort of injunction or action against Windows XP," said Patricia Seybold Group analyst Peter O'Kelley. "To me, it's good entertainment but unfortunate."
But the spat over Java may have more to do with the Internet Explorer browser than with the new operating system. Internet Explorer and Windows support the JVM differently.
Java's appeal is its ability to run programs identically on many different computer systems--such as those using Apple's Mac OS or Microsoft's Windows--without having to rewrite the programs for each OS. But to run the programs--typically in a browser--the PC must have a copy of the JVM.
The decision to pull the JVM from Internet Explorer followed a January settlement with Sun over Java licensing. Sun filed the lawsuit in 1997, alleging Microsoft violated its contract for licensing Java.
As part of the settlement, Sun agreed to let Microsoft continue using a four-year-old JVM for seven years but prohibited the software giant from using new versions of the software.
"It is ironic that we spent three years in litigation with Sun over their attempt to stop us from shipping Java in Windows, and now they are complaining that we are not shipping it by default in Windows XP," said Jim Cullinan, Windows XP lead product manager.
Still, through Internet Explorer and Windows, Microsoft is in fact one of the biggest distributors of Java, so closing this channel even slightly is a blow to Sun, said Gartner analyst David Smith.
"Microsoft certainly is not doing Java users any favors," he said. "It's entirely understandable and predictable they would do something like that. They have been an underminer of Java since day one."
But Technology Business Research analyst Bob Sutherland scoffed at Sun's attack on Microsoft, contending the company in some ways got what it had asked for.
"Sun can't have it both ways," he said. "They don't want Microsoft to have monopolistic control, but at the same time they want them to control their Java. No matter what Microsoft does, Sun is going to try and demonize them."
For its part, Sun argues that Microsoft booted the JVM because of Java's success in the server market and its increasing popularity in cell phones and other wireless devices. Microsoft and Sun compete in the server operating system market and in many other software areas. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has called Sun "pretty much almost about as pure as you can get as a competitor" to Microsoft.
Microsoft has also shipped a development language, called C#, that is in many ways a functional equivalent of Java. The language will play a key role in the company's .Net and HailStorm Web services initiatives. Sun is developing a Web services initiative of its own.
"I think Microsoft is looking at the high end and the low end, they're getting squeezed in the middle, they still have power on the PC, and they're using it because they want to stop Java momentum if they can," said Sun spokesman David Harrah. "They don't have an answer for what Java is able to do."
Losing or gaining control?
But looked at from another view, Microsoft's decision not to include the JVM in Internet Explorer--and therefore Windows XP--is an opportunity for Sun, which the company reluctantly admits.
Because Internet Explorer does not use a plug-in architecture like other browsers, such as AOL Time Warner's Netscape 6.1, it only supports Microsoft's JVM. That means Internet Explorer uses an older, outdated JVM instead of the newer, faster and more flexible JVM version 1.3.1. Java programs running anywhere else in Windows XP, or older versions of the operating system, can use version 1.3.1 if it is installed. But with most Java programs running in browsers, Microsoft's older version has in some ways created a roadblock for the programming language's advance, say analysts.
Harrah acknowledged that response to Microsoft's decision to pull the JVM has been quite positive in some quarters.
"Some of the reaction I've seen from the developer community has been exactly that: 'Hallelujah, we don't have to deal with this old Microsoft browser, we can finally deliver the latest and greatest JVM,'" he said.
Recognizing that opportunity, Sun plans to deliver a JVM fully usable by all programs in Windows XP, including Internet Explorer 6.
"What we are doing is developing a JVM that will reside inside the XP operating system that will be callable by any browser," Harrah said. "We expect to have the usual excellent Windows support when XP ships."
Harrah said that the new JVM would be available for download from Sun and other Web sites and be included on some new Windows XP PCs. But he wouldn't discuss specific deals with PC makers. "But we have been very pleased by the reactions we have gotten from them," he emphasized.
But some analysts are not convinced Microsoft will make it easy for Sun to introduce a JVM fully supported by Windows XP.
"Sun will have to make it work with Internet Explorer, but Microsoft is not making it easy to do that," Smith said. "Java is a thorn in the side of Microsoft, and Microsoft continues to scratch at that thorn to dislodge it."