Microsoft has acknowledged it has been making false claims about the Java support in its new Internet Explorer 4.0 browser.
Contrary to what Microsoft is proclaiming to users and on its Web site, Explorer 4.0 is not fully compatible with the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1., the core Sun Microsystems Java specification licensed to the industry for write-once, run-anywhere computing.
That means users cannot count on Explorer 4.0 - which has been in beta for two weeks and has been downloaded a million times - to run some applications that really are JDK 1.1-compliant.
Specifically, the new version of Explorer lacks the Java-to-Java transport mechanism called Remote Method Invocation (RMI), the digital signature feature for "signing" Java applets and the Java native interface.
"We have all of the JDK 1.1 with those exceptions," says Microsoft Director of Platform Marketing Cornelius Willis, adding that Microsoft also will not support the new Java Foundation Classes that Sun has out in developer release. "If we said otherwise, we made a mistake, and we've got to correct it."
Willis says Microsoft has substituted its own Component Object Model (COM) and digital signing technology in place of similar features in the JDK.
"They want people to be confused," says Dave Smith, analyst at the Stamford, Connecticut-based consultancy GartnerGroup. Smith says Microsoft is willing to let Java live as simply another programming language, but the Redmond giant wants to stamp out Java in any role it may play as an operating system that competes with Windows.
Wayne Meyers, Smith Barney's senior technical specialist for technology, research and planning, says the JDK compatibility issue is important because his firm is considering using a product from Fischer International that provides browser-based email. Meyers says the product, called Planet Tao, cannot incorporate attachments without using a Java 1.1-based browser. Meyers says Microsoft's Java product manager had even assured him Explorer 4.0 would use JDK 1.1.
The fact that Explorer 4.0 does not support the Java RMI could become a major worry for some. Companies such as Mitsubishi are developing RMI applications for use in-house and for commercial sale. "If you didn't use RMI, you'd have to do something like tunnel everything through HTTP," says Ann Thomas, an analyst at Boston-based consultancy Patricia Seybold Group Inc.
Thomas also points out that RMI is at the heart of IBM's San Francisco Project, a joint effort with some 200 software companies to create a set of reusable Java frameworks for business applications. Designed to save developers from having to write Java code that already exists as building blocks elsewhere, the San Francicso framework will be used for creating distributed Java applications.
RMI is the mechanism used in the San Francisco project to let distributed Java components work together over the network. IBM chose RMI because it was part of JDK 1.1, says Brad Rubin, IBM's lead architect for theproject. "Using the officially blessed solution was important to us," he said.
To run applications built with the San Francisco project frameworks, customers will need a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that supports JDK 1.1. The JVM could be part of a Web browser or packaged with an operating system or a separate program.
Ironically, IBM's Lotus subsidiary last week announced a major push to integrate the Explorer 4.0 browser into Lotus Notes. Lotus president Jeff Papows said Microsoft's COM - the alternative to RMI - will be added to Lotus applications so customers will be able to carry out tasks such as serving Excel spreadsheets from a Lotus Domino-developed Web page.
While Microsoft now says it is highly unlikely that it will ever have a fully JDK 1.1-compliant-browser, Netscape Communications Corp. has promised to have a compliant browser out by the end of this quarter.