Microsoft's decision not to bundle the Java virtual machine (JVM) in the forthcoming Windows XP operating system will be little more than a nuisance for corporate users, analysts said. But the decision, announced Wednesday, may deter developers from picking Java as their Web language of choice.
Microsoft said Wednesday that Windows XP will not contain its JVM and neither will subsequent versions.
"We've converted the way the JVM is delivered from a pre-installed component to install-on-demand," said Tony Goodhew, a Microsoft product manager in Redmond, Wash. He added that Microsoft made the change to be in compliance with the recently settled court case with Sun Microsystems Inc. over Java.
Corporate customers who buy a single image of Windows XP will get the Microsoft JVM on the operating system discs, so they will not have to download a JVM onto each individual machine. Alternatively, they can choose to use any other JVM, such as the one from Sun.
Critics argue that Microsoft's decision to pull the JVM from the operating system points to an attempt by the software maker to lure Java developers to its own language, C#, a key component in the company's .NET initiative.
"We don't see any reason for it from a computing standpoint," said Andrew Shikiar, director of POSSIE.org, a grassroots group supported by Java-centric software companies and developers. "They might see Java as competitive to their .NET strategy."
JVM is software that enables Windows to run Java-based programs, which are often used to create animation and interactive features on Web pages and mobile devices, such as stock tickers and real-time sports scores.
"This is really a tempest in a teapot," said Dan Kusnetsky, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. "It's not an onerous set of problems."
Kusnetsky said that most end-users won't notice a difference because once they access a Java-based Web site they'll be able to download a JVM, similar to the process of downloading Macromedia Inc.'s Flash plug-ins. He estimated the percentage of users who will have to download the plug-in to be in the vicinity of 5 percent to 7 percent.
Developers, however, expressed concern that the added complexity will make their task more difficult.
"It definitely makes you think about your target audience. If you are creating a consumer-oriented Web site where you don't know what your average visitor has installed, you may be hesitant to pick Java considering that XP won't ship with it. If a user has to grunt through a multiple-megabyte download of a JVM, you will likely lose that visitor," said Bryan Kinkel a senior project manager at Vega Applications Development, in Media, Pa.
A report from Zona Research, a market research firm in Redwood City, Calif., said that this move will not entirely prevent developers from tying together Java and Windows applications. Developers can use SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) to bridge Java and the .NET worlds, the report said.
The change is being made as a result of the legal dispute between Microsoft and Sun and its settlement in January of this year, Microsoft said. Sun had accused Microsoft of distributing a version of Java that was not compatible with Sun's.
Under the settlement, Microsoft stopped development of its JVM and will gradually phase out the software. Removing it from Windows XP is a step toward discontinuing the product, said Balaprakash Kasiviswanathan, Windows XP product marketing manager for Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore. He declined to detail further steps in the phase-out.
"We will phase it out, but at this point we want to make sure people can have it on demand," Kasiviswanathan said.
The first time XP users try to view a Web site or use an application that requires a JVM, they will get a prompt to download Microsoft's JVM from its Web site, he said. At that point, they can opt to skip that download and choose another JVM instead.
According to Kasiviswanathan, XP will fully support Sun's JVM for those users who choose it. "There is no lack of support for running any sort of application," he said.
Although the Windows XP Release Candidate 1 offers the option to install the software, Java supporters said the extra steps to download the 5MB program and get it to run safely on a computer could eventually hinder consumers and developers from supporting Java moving forward.
"It's not something the average consumer should have to do," Shikiar said. "Also, from a fairness standpoint, if I'm a developer I need to know what I can develop for."
Kasiviswanathan defended the work Microsoft did to enhance its JVM. "Ours has a lot more innovation and was a better way of using Java," he said.
According to information on Microsoft's Web site, the Microsoft JVM includes the Microsoft COM (Component Object Model), which lets Java programmers take advantage of some Windows features and allows quicker download of Java applications, among other things.
Current Windows operating systems ship with an integrated version of Microsoft's JVM, and they will continue to include it. Users who upgrade to XP from an earlier version of Windows will be able to keep the Microsoft JVM that came with their old OS, Kasiviswanathan said.