War over Java escalates

The battle over who will control Java has flared up again, with Microsoft and Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft unit squabbling over whose implementation will dominate the market.

The battle over who will control Java has flared up again, with Microsoft and Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft unit squabbling over whose implementation will dominate the market.

At this week's Internet World show in New York, JavaSoft attempted to regain control of Java's rapid evolution with a new certification campaign, at the same time branding Microsoft's platform-specific extensions of the Java virtual machine as an illegitimate effort.

The Pure Java certification, branding, and marketing initiative, which is intended to reward ISVs for writing applications entirely in Java, is a single test that will scan application source code to determine whether it is strictly Java, according to JavaSoft President Alan Baratz.

But although the Pure Java branding and certification effort addresses applications, some licensees have reported ongoing problems in testing Java underpinnings, such as virtual machines and compilers.

As a result, the bickering between Microsoft and JavaSoft is obscuring concerns on the part of Java licensees over JavaSoft's ability to deliver on the promise of an entirely cross-platform language in the short term.

JavaSoft and its partners have developed about 5,000 tests for the forthcoming Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1 release, which will be out in late January or early February, but they have tested only about 70 percent of Java's functions.

And despite rapid progress in establishing Java as a cross-industry specification, many licensees are quietly expressing doubt that developers can be assured of cross-platform consistency with the JDK 1.1 tests.

Specifically, licensees are concerned that a fragmented market along the lines of Unix will kill the allure of developing an application once for several OSes using Java.

"Fragmentation would be a mistake, since the biggest advantage of Java is that you can use one development language to do everything cross-platform. To build proprietary hooks defeats the purpose," says Sanjay Ramamurthy, a senior systems consultant with Key Services, in Albany, New York. "We're looking at Microsoft, but we won't develop anything that requires proprietary hooks. We would probably steer clear of nonbranded products in our corporate purchase guidelines."

For their part, Microsoft officials are taking pains to stress their dual-purpose Java support strategy: Developers can create both cross-platform and faster Windows-specific Java applications.

The company also offers a different interpretation of its Java licensing terms. Despite this week's assertion by Baratz that Java licensees must support the entire JDK 1.1 upgrade and pass the necessary verification tests within about six months of the upgrade's commercial shipment early in the first quarter, Microsoft officials maintain they have the final word on both the timing and the extent of their JDK 1.1 support.

Meanwhile, JavaSoft officials acknowledged that the technology's industry standardization with groups such as the International Standards Organization, the European Computer Manufacturers Association, and the Open Group could start as soon as the first quarter of 1997. However, the company said it has no immediate plans to create a single Java standard.

JavaSoft, in Cupertino, California, can be reached at http://www.javasoft.com.

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