Java heat is on Sun

By Frank Hayes, Computerworld |  Operating Systems

After years of threats, sniping and dirty tricks, Microsoft Corp. is finally bailing out of the Java business. Last week, the company confirmed that it has de-integrated Java from Windows XP and all future versions of its operating systems. No surprise there: it was obviously what Microsoft had in mind in January when it finally settled the 1997 lawsuit brought by Sun Microsystems Inc. over Microsoft's version of Java.

And as a parting shot, Microsoft has changed its security classification of Java in Windows XP from medium risk to high risk.

That means Java applets won't run in Windows XP's Internet Explorer if IE's security settings are set to "high." And Java won't run at all under Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express with their default settings.

Sure, it's a cheesy move. Java hasn't become riskier. There's never been a significant outbreak of Java-based viruses. The Java risk is much lower than, say, Microsoft Word macros -- the medium of choice for virus writers and script kiddies today.

But Microsoft isn't making Java anymore, so Java gets reclassified as a high security risk.

Besides, we all know why Microsoft is willing to make Java as unavailable as possible: Microsoft finally has something to replace Java. Its shiny new C# language works a lot like Java. It's designed to be a lot like Java. It's Microsoft's answer to Java -- and C# is facing an uphill struggle against Java.

Java has a six-year head start, millions of applications built with it and a seemingly infinite supply of rabidly fanatical developers. You can bet Microsoft has no intention of giving any support to Java that will make C#'s chances any bleaker than they already are.

Will that break some corporate and consumer Web sites for users browsing with Windows XP? Sure. Millions of Web sites use Java. For some, Java is a crucial piece of an e-business application. If there's no Java on a user's PC, the application won't work.

But catching blame for that is a chance Microsoft is willing to take. So now it's up to Sun.

If Sun wants Java on every Windows desktop, that will no longer happen automatically. Sun will have to cut deals with PC makers, the way America Online Inc., RealNetworks Inc. and other Microsoft competitors do. And Sun will probably need to bulletproof the Java installation process, too.

If Sun wants corporate IT shops to adjust their security settings to let Java applets through, it's education time. Sun will have to push hard to convince PC managers and systems administrators that that's a good idea. Sun is good at getting its messages out to the friendly crowd of Java developers, but this is a bigger and tougher job.

And if Sun wants Java to be more functional than frustrating for ordinary users in the years to come, that's going to require even more promotion and politicking than Sun has devoted to Java in the past.

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