Java and the .net framework are Internet-enabled distributed computing platforms that compete head to head. District court judge Frederick Motz said he did not want the antitrust violations - of which Microsoft was found guilty in the recently settled federal case - to help it defeat the Java platform.
The judge said he wanted to ensure that Java gets a fair shake in the platform war by requiring Microsoft to ship up-to-date versions of Java. He is expected to issue his "must-carry" order within the next two weeks.
Having that Java desktop availability "removes a lot of the stress of competing with the .net framework", said Jason Norman, who works with Java as a health systems software engineer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. "But it's not going to be a decisive thing either way. It does not mean that Java is going to dominate, because Java has its own set of challenges."
One such challenge is Swing, Sun's tool for creating interfaces, which Norman said is slow and difficult to work with.
But Andre Mendes, chief technology integration officer at the Public Broadcasting Service, said IT departments have already decided the issue by not downloading and upgrading the desktop Java virtual machine (JVM).
"There has not been a clear mandate from the masses out there to have [Java] included as part of the operating system," said Mendes. He added that having to upgrade Java on their systems has never been an obstacle for companies that wanted to adopt the platform.
Microsoft officials said their reasons for opposing the must-carry rule were outlined in legal briefs. Among the problems the company cited are potentially jeopardised Windows shipping dates and a lack of limitations on what Sun could put in its runtime environment. It could also hurt the quality and security of Windows releases, among other problems, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft ships a version of the JVM that is at least five years old. Developers have to either ensure that clients have the latest JVM, limit features to those supported by the earlier version or simply serve up HTML.
"If the JVM did become standard on every desktop, it could open the door for really, really rich clients," said Scott Davis, head of the Denver Java Users Group and a consultant at Kres Consulting.
The "quality of Web applications will increase as developers will be able to make use of the latest Java advances from within the browser," said Jayson Raymond, chairman of the Seattle Java Users Group and chief executive officer and chief technology officer at Accelerant Mobile, a Java development firm.
IDC analyst Rikki Kirzner called the ruling "extraordinarily important" for Java. "What this ruling does is force Microsoft to support Java, which makes the burden much easier on the development community," she said.