Opting to fight archrival Sun Microsystems in the Java arena the old-fashioned way -- with technology rather than through the courts -- Microsoft is working to ink a broad alliance with Hewlett-Packard that could join the companies' application development strategies at the hip.
Microsoft and HP hope to craft a deal that would have Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP back Microsoft's efforts to get the International Organization for Standardization (commonly known as the ISO) to endorse Microsoft's C# programming language and .NET development platforms as industry standards. In return, HP wants Microsoft to forcefully endorse HP's e-speak development environment and Chai technologies for embedded Java applications, said a source close to HP.
Officials at Microsoft have said they want to incorporate Java into strategic product plans but have been prevented from doing so because their hands were tied in ongoing court battles with Sun.
Microsoft has held a license for Chai since 1998 and may opt to put that Java technology to use, according to one Microsoft official, who declined to elaborate.
An overarching alliance with HP could potentially offer developers an alternative to Sun's Java as well as give the two companies more leverage against Sun.
But there is also some concern that players of Microsoft's and HP's stature could fracture the Java development community into two camps. It could also put at risk major investments by large IT shops in the current Java platform.
"If Microsoft and HP use this as a wedge to disrupt coherence in the Java standard, that will be problematic for developers and consumers ... already struggling to keep a handle on a moving target," said Melinda Ballou, an analyst at Meta Group, in Stamford, Conn.
Either through technology or the ruling of a court, Microsoft needs to incorporate Java into its product mix, according to some analysts.
"Microsoft has got to do something with Java. Their clients are demanding it, because if you want to build anything on the Web, you need Java," said Rikki Kirzner, vice president of application development and deployment at IDC, in Mountain View, Calif. "HP is the furthest thing from Sun's Java. They've done the most modification to it, so it would be a fit for Microsoft."
Kirzner said a significant percentage of Windows developers already are using off-the-shelf Java to build applications.
Through this agreement, Microsoft would layer HP's Chai, a clean-room, fully functioning, embedded Java version into .NET, according to one of the sources.
Chai could help Microsoft take advantage of non-Windows applications written to Java. As part of .NET, for instance, Chai could enable users of non-Windows devices, such as J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) handsets to access .NET servers and Web services.
"The deal gives third-party applications more compatibility with Microsoft, as opposed to making Microsoft more compatible with third-party applications," said one industry analyst.
Such benefits would apply to corporate customers as well as to ISPs and ASPs (application service providers) looking to extend their services.
Following its recent acquisition of application server developer Bluestone, HP plans to launch programs designed to attract developers to HP technologies, and Microsoft could help lure Windows developers to HP technologies.
Both companies are hoping to conclude some type of agreement in time for next week's Comdex event in Las Vegas, but given the politics involved that agreement might be limited initially to HP supporting Microsoft's efforts to bolster its new C# development language -- a competitor to Java -- with ISO certification in return for future considerations, according to sources close to HP.
Some see the alliance as a political solution to a technology problem. In the area of XML, the companies have been at odds over some overlap between HP's e-speak and the proposed Microsoft-, IBM-, and Ariba-backed UDDI (Universal Description Discovery Integration) specifications, which outline a registry, transaction rules, and business directory for b-to-b commerce.
"UDDI is clearly encroaching on e-speak's territory, as they both do many of the same things. Microsoft thinks that e-speak can fit under the UDDI umbrella where you can have e-speak-enabled services that can be identified on UDDI repositories," said one analyst who requested anonymity.
"Both HP and Intel were not signing on because they felt Microsoft, IBM (Corp.), and Ariba Inc. held control over what they felt was intellectual property in UDDI," one analyst said.
Some analysts see what they think is an obvious benefit to multivendor initiatives, such as UDDI and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), providing users with more flexible development strategies.
And by tying the .NET and e-speak platforms the companies would also accelerate the wider trend toward the deployment of Web services, or applications offered over the Internet.
"There is a whole mosaic of options forming for users around some of these initiatives. They could broaden the market in an interesting way for Global 2000 IT shops," Meta Group Inc.'s Ballou said.
HP declined to comment.
Why Microsoft wants Java
By layering HP's Chai -- a clean-room version of embedded Java that HP licensed in 1998 -- into .NET, Microsoft will be able to do the following.
* Use Java without licensing it directly from Sun* Provide developers with the Chai-known set of APIs so they can develop to .NET* Allow those developers who are building to other Java virtual machines to run their applications on .NET* Enable users of non-Windows devices -- such as forthcoming J2ME wireless handsets expected later this year from a number of handset manufacturers -- to access .NET Web services* Offer ISPs and ASPs a means of extending the variety of services they provide and broadening the devices to which those services are availableAllies tighten tiesMicrosoft and HP promise to back each other's technologies.
* HP will have access to C#, Microsoft's latest programming language* Microsoft will actively support HP's e-speak and Chai* HP will back standardization of Microsoft's C# and .NET