Microsoft hit in court, on Web

Settlement to phase out Java raises questions

As Sun ended its courtroom battles over Java with a $20 million settlement from Microsoft last week, uncertainty arose about IT plans for deploying Java in Windows environments.

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Redmond's DNS Woes

Configuration errors made Microsoft Web sites inaccessible for millions of users.

Sites that were unavailable for up to 22 hours at a time last week included the following:

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Main site Microsoft.com
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Web portal MSN.com
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News site MSNBC.com
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Sun Microsystems Inc. claimed that Microsoft Corp. had infringed on its copyright by altering Sun's Java source code. The settlement gives Microsoft the right to use the code from 1997the year the lawsuit was filedin its existing tools for the next seven years. But Microsoft says it doesn't need Java for its .Net future.

"This is bad for Java and bad for Microsoft," said Michael Segal, chief technology officer at SimulConsult Inc., a maker of medical diagnostic tools in Brookline, Mass. "If Microsoft drops Java from [Internet Explorer], that's a huge concern because you won't be able to use applets. And if it's hard to run Java on IE or takes a technical person to use it, we'll switch to [supporting] Netscape."

Microsoft has already announced developer tools for converting applications developed in the old Visual J++ code to its .Net platform or C++ and C# languages.

While some analysts said this conversion will present a problem for some companies, many users said they had stopped using J++ in the wake of the lawsuit. Microsoft hasn't updated the Java code in its products since Version 1.1.4; Sun now offers Version 1.3.

Perhaps the most pressing concern for IT developers is the use of Java in Microsoft's popular browser. The plans for Internet Explorer 6.0, now in beta, are up in the air. Tony Goodhew, a Microsoft product manager, said Internet Explorer 6.0 may offer the Java Virtual Machine as an "on-demand download" or substitute it with a .Net component.

The settlement with Sun also closes the door on upgrading Microsoft's tools, such as Visual J++, with enhancements from Sun's Java code. Yet many developers don't use J++ anymore anyway.

"We stopped using Visual J++ because of the lawsuit and the lack of support by them," said Sil Zendejas, a software developer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We were scared because they wouldn't support it and downplayed the existence of Java after a certain point." Zendejas said he plans to use C# and C++ instead.

Developers also shouldn't expect to see Java supported in Microsoft's .Net initiative, a middleware framework that allows applications to swap services over the Web. The settlement explicitly prohibits Java from cropping up in .Net.

"In deciding not to use compliant technology, [Microsoft has] decided to preclude licensing Java for .Net," said Rich Green, general manager of Java software at Sun.

Ultimately, those developers whose corporate environments are vested in Microsoft technology will have to wait for it to deliver .Net and the new C# development language, which it bills as a cross-platform alternative to Java.

"Its not any big secret that .Net is Microsoft's answer to Java," said Robb Eads, senior software engineer at Trilithic Inc., a maker of cable TV instruments in Indianapolis. "This early in the game, you really have to go on faith" that .Net will be cross-platform and an alternative to Java, he added.

Microsoft to Offer Java Migration ToolsMicrosoft last week unveiled a set of migration tools to move its Visual J++ applications off the Java platform. Called Java User Migration Path to Microsoft .Net (JUMP), the tools aim to convert applications developed in Visual J++ to Microsoft's .Net platform.

The tools can also be used to migrate existing Java code to C#, Microsoft's new object-oriented programming language. JUMP will also work with Visual Studio .Net.

According to Tony Goodhew, JUMP product manager, the tools will automatically convert 80% to 85% of the code in Visual J++ applications. "There is no reason to cripple .Net by going back and limiting it to [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] functionality," he said.

Beta versions are scheduled to be available by the summer.

JUMP provides a ready-made alternative for J++ developers, said Carl Zetie, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"A lot depends on just how well this technology works and what proportion of J++ will go across to the .Net framework," Zetie said. "The amount that you need to change is an easier issue than figuring out what the changes need to be."

Some users expressed skepticism about the tools.

"We will convert our J++ code, but there are at least three different directions that we could go," said Bill Buckingham, an IT architect at Royal Bank of Canada in Montreal. Shifting to Sun's Java tools, migrating to .Net or looking for a third-party development environment are all viable options, he said.

"For new developments, I'd still prefer to use Java, as it's a solid language and [virtual machine]. And for server-side development, it takes a lot of beating," said Patrick Lambe, head of IT operations at RiskBox.com Ltd., a financial services firm in London.

Pricing for JUMP hasn't been determined.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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