Industry divided over Java on Windows XP PCs

Following Microsoft 's decision to remove support for Java from its Windows XP operating system and upcoming web browser, PC makers and internet service providers (ISPs) are mulling whether to aid the Java effort by bundling support for the technology with their PCs and services.

          Following Microsoft 's decision to remove support for Java from its Windows XP operating system and upcoming web browser, PC makers and internet service providers (ISPs) are mulling whether to aid the Java effort by bundling support for the technology with their PCs and services.

          The issue centres on Microsoft's recent decision to phase out its inclusion of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) in its products, beginning with Windows XP and Internet Explorer Version 6. A JVM is a software program that runs independently of a computer's operating system, allowing virtually any type of computer from PCs to cell phones to run applications written in Java.

          More than a dozen software companies -- including Microsoft and Java creator Sun Microsystems -- offer JVMs for a variety of devices Without the software, a device would not be able to run Java programs. Java programs can be used for a variety of purposes, from adding features -- such as real-time stock tickers -- to websites, to developing web-based applications such as video games.

          In a unexpected move last month, Microsoft said it would pull its JVM from Windows XP and Internet Explorer, telling consumers they would have to download the software on their own in order to run Java programs. With the exclusion of the program, Windows XP users would be prompted to download a JVM from Microsoft's Web site or from a third-party provider.

          Microsoft's decision has left many in the industry wondering whether they should add a JVM to their new machines.

          Dell Computer plans to bundle a JVM with every Windows XP computer its sells, a spokesman for the PC maker confirmed Wednesday. The company hasn't determined which vendor will supply the software but said the decision to include a JVM was made to provide the easiest way for customers to run Java applications, Dell Spokesman Tom Kehoe says.

          Compaq, meanwhile, said it has decided not to bundle Java support with its Windows PCs, according to spokesman Roger Frizzell. "Since it's free and easy to download, we decided not to do it," he says.

          Perhaps not surprisingly, AOL Time Warner, a close ally of Java creator Sun, will also include a JVM with the internet service software it distributes to consumers, hoping to reach users who may not have installed a JVM on their own accord.

          Some other PC vendors say they have yet to decide. A Gateway spokeswoman says the company is still in talks with a variety of software vendors regarding what applications it will ship on Windows XP machines.

          Microsoft is pulling the JVM from its software products after settling a four-year-old lawsuit with Sun over its use of Java. Sun argued in the lawsuit that Microsoft had developed Java products that didn't comply with its requirements for compatibility with other Java software. Microsoft viewed Java's ability to run on any type of computer as a threat to the ubiquity of its Windows operating system, and developed incompatible products in an effort to derail Java, Sun charged.

          Microsoft contended that its efforts with Java were entirely legal, and that Sun wasn't prepared to compete with the software giant in the marketplace.

          The two companies came to an agreement that allowed Microsoft to continue offering products that use an older version of Java, but prevented the company from making use of newer versions of the software. Instead of using the older version of the JVM, Microsoft decided to ditch it all together.

          Sun, which is one of Microsoft's biggest rivals, is taking the most aggressive action to drum up industry backing for Java. In addition to working with partners such as AOL Time Warner to distribute JVMs to consumers with Windows XP machines, Sun is building and distributing its own JVM for Windows XP, according to Sun spokesman David Harrah. The company typically makes a new JVM for each Windows release, and will make the new one available for download by the expected Oct. 25 launch of the operating system.

          But Microsoft's decision to phase out its JVM is not as harmful to users as Sun has suggested, some in the industry say. The Gateway spokeswoman says the company has not heard much from customers asking for built-in Java support on Windows XP computers, and considered the process described by Microsoft of downloading a JVM from the Internet Explorer browser easy enough for consumers.

          Microsoft issued a terse statement Thursday blasting Sun's criticism: "Sun is ... being disingenuous about the impact on customers. Microsoft has taken multiple steps to make its Java implementation available to Windows XP customers. ... While the Microsoft virtual machine is not on the Windows XP CD, it is still an integrated part of the product," the statement read.

          Sun disagreed that most consumers would be savvy enough to find their own support for Java. In a full-page advertisement that ran in the San Jose Mercury News, The Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers on August 9, Sun urged consumers to "demand that Microsoft include the Java platform in their XP operating system. And that the PC vendors' include the Java platform on their systems."

          While Sun contends that Microsoft's decision to pull the JVM from its product line won't affect Sun's business, "it does have an effect on our customers," said Rick Saletta, group manager for enterprise Java at Sun. "Microsoft has taken away some choice for consumers."

          Sun sought to emphasise growing support for Java elsewhere in the industry. Harrah noted that Java has taken off on consumer devices such as handheld computers and cell phones. Mobile phone and service providers such as Japan's NTT DoCoMo Corp., J-Phone Communications, Nokia and Nextel Communications are each making phones that have small JVMs to run Java applications.

          Set-top box makers such as OpenTV and Liberate Technologies, meanwhile, have brought Java into the interactive television market. And Sony has said it will bundle a JVM with its Playstation 2 to support Java applications such as instant messaging on the video game console.

          "The only place where we have obstruction in a sense is on the desktop, and who owns and controls the desktop but Microsoft," says Harrah.

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