Microsoft may not have the clearest vision for how to integrate Java into its overall strategy, but the company is certain of one thing: It wants to make Windows the best platform to run Java applications.
"Microsoft's goal is to make sure that the best way to run Java is Windows," says Charles Fitzgerald, programme manager of Microsoft's Internet platform and tools division. "Java is very immature today and Microsoft plans to bring its knowledge of development environments and operating systems to make it a better language."
Microsoft has a two-pronged Java strategy -- its J++ development environment and support for Java applets via its Java Virtual Machine embedded in Internet Explorer, Fitzgerald says. J++ goes up against similar products from Symantec and Borland, as well asJava WorkShop from Java's creator, Sun.
"We don't see Java WorkShop as a competitive product. After all, no one's buying it," Fitzgerald says. Microsoft is confident it can draw the same amount of market share it has for its C++ product (about 50%) with its J++ product, Fitzgerald says.
But while Microsoft claims to be whole-heartedly supporting Java, even in conjunction with its own ActiveX technology, it is sceptical that Java-based applications will be strong enough to displace traditional applications written in other programming languges in the near future.
"There are maybe 3000 Java applets available today, and most of those are flying coffee cups or spinning hippos," Fitzgerald says. In contrast, there are thousands of applications written for Windows in C++ and Visual Basic, comprising "hundreds of billions of lines of code", Fitzgerald says.
While Microsoft thinks Java applets run fastest on Windows and Internet Explorer because of its "highly-optimised Java Virtual Machine", competitor Sun is betting on its own JavaOS, Fitzgerald says. However, JavaOS runs only applications written in Java, while Windows runs the thousands of applications already available for Windows as well, Fitzgerald says.
"Microsoft is language-neutral," Fitzgerald says.
Like many debates between Microsoft and the rest of the industry, the way the company will use Java to its fullest advantage comes down to the PC versus the NC.
"It is a pretty big bet to optimise a machine at the silicon level to run applications written in only one programming language," Fitzgerald says of NCs based on the JavaOS. "Once NC developers write hundreds of millions of lines of code in Java, then we can begin to consider the NC on the same level as the PC."
Earlier, Microsoft announced that it will make its Java Virtual Machine, which enables a browser to run Java applets, available for Netscape Navigator.
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