Is Microsoft Too Strong for Java?

Now that Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have settled their legal battle, can corporate users relax?
Michelle GabrielleJanuary 30, 2001

Last week, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft reached an out-of-court settlement over Microsoft’s alleged misuse of Sun’s trademark for the Java programming language. But now that the two rivals are no longer engaged in active hostilities, corporate IT users probably want to know where they fit into all of this.

Fair question. The short answer is that the lesson of the last few years is that the Internet has earned its place as legitimate corporate computing platform in its own right.

But Windows is still the single most widely used platform in personal computers and local area networks. Because of Windows’ role in the marketplace, the independent software vendors, or ISVs, and systems consultants who write the bulk of applications for global businesses, will continue to write applications for it. That isn’t about to be changed by any court case. What’s more, corporate technology users will probably continue as they have for years, throwing the bulk of their staff and investments into Windows and deploying other technologies, such as Java, when they fill a specific need.

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Corporate users “won’t have to do anything,” says Martin Ressinger, a director at Fitch Inc., the credit ratings agency. Microsoft will still develop products that will provide corporate users with software that is functionally equivalent to Sun’s Java.

On the other hand, “Sun’s not likely to provide a comprehensive browser that would replace Microsoft’s Internet Explorer,” says Ressinger. “It’s too late for Sun because they have not expressed too much of an interest in providing software that would run on Windows and Intel type platforms. Sun has worked with Netscape, but Internet Explorer is too well- established to be displaced.”

In addition, Ressinger says Java is just not as “hot” as it used to be. “A couple of years ago,” he recalls, “people thought Java was going to be a major Web site factor, but I think every historical type of emulation just turned out to be a little cumbersome and slow.”

According to Ressinger, Java may be “a great programming language,” but “in terms of desktop Web usage, it is kind of slow.” Corporate users should stay tuned as to a more efficient way to display Java or consider not using it on their Web sites altogether.

If there’s any impact at all, it may be that the settlement will cause users to reevaluate each software company’s products.

“While I think Java is still a very important technology, people are coming to realize Java is just another computer programming language and is not quite getting the hype it was a few years ago. People are more realistic about its performance,” says Joseph Beaulieu, a senior analyst at Morningstar Inc.

Beaulieu says, “What is important is that you have a language where you can write a program once and then deploy it on all different types of computers and platforms and operating systems, and Microsoft has admitted that it thinks that is a pretty important thing to do.”

Under the agreement, Microsoft can’t use Java to develop its own applications. But Beaulieu says, “It doesn’t have any impact on the ability of Windows to run Java based applications.” In addition, “it would be totally counter-productive for Sun to not allow Java to run on Windows-based computers because that is the whole attraction of Java, you can run it anywhere. Microsoft may not be able develop programs using Java but they can still allow their customers to run Java in their operating system.”

The general consensus is that the Sun/Microsoft settlement will have no major impact on corporate users but that it was more of a control issue between Sun and Microsoft.

“The bottom line is that if it looks like you are going to have a lot of Windows in your future, you should be concerned about committing too deeply to Java,” says William F. Zachmann, a vice president at Meta Group, a technology market research firm in Stamford, Conn. “On the other hand, if your IT plans call for a lot of Java, you should consider your expectations and ability to make effective use of Windows in your organization.”

According to Zachmann, the dispute had its roots in a power struggle between the two vendors.

“The real name of the game is that Sun didn’t want Windows to do a better job than Sun’s Solaris, so they wanted to prevent them from improving,” Zachmann says. Obviously, that isn’t going to stop Microsoft, which two days after the settlement was announced unveiled its latest scheme to lure Java developers to its own technology, called JUMP to .NET.

“Although Sun claims they got what they wanted,” says Zachmann, “it is pretty clear that the settlement grants Microsoft plenty of transition time.”

Zachmann says that although “it is too early to say for sure,” Microsoft may be better off in the long run. In the meantime, corporate users have time to think about how deeply they want to get involved in either of the software giants’ systems.

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