IT superpowers' feud jumps up a gear

I had thought the battle between Microsoft and Sun over what is Java and what is not would roll on for a while longer

I had thought the battle between Microsoft and Sun over what is Java and what is not would roll on for a while longer

Simon Moores

Tech talk

To be honest, neither side appears to be completely sinless in the eyes of the bearded Java zealots and, while their Java isn't our Java, most people have forgotten what the two software giants were squabbling about in the first place.

If, like me, you have forgotten, then it is because in 1997 Sun accused Microsoft of abusing the write-once-run-anywhere Java language by making a Visual J++ version that runs only in the Windows environment.

Under the court agreement Microsoft is paying Sun $20m for a licence to continue distributing the Java technology it is using for another seven years. Microsoft can continue to recycle its ageing Java 1.1.4 technology in updated versions of current software as long as such products pass Sun's own Java compatibility tests.

Since the introduction of .net, Microsoft has offered every appearance of a newly reformed character. No longer the avaricious champions of proprietary standards, Microsoft executives talk enthusiastically about the open standards of the Internet, XML and of course C#, the new programming language and the glue that will hold the .net dream together.

But hold on. If Java has won the war, and arguably it has, why doesn't Microsoft simply concede and give its critics and the courts a well-earned rest? Apparently, up to 60% of all Java developers still write applications for Windows, supporting the company's view that, regardless of sour grapes on the part of Sun, developers vote with their feet.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the court action stopped further Visual J++ development dead in the water, leaving the company with two choices. Either throw in the towel and say nice things about Java or take its toys and go and play in another sandbox.

Being Microsoft, of course, good sense prevailed and Jump (Java User Migration Path) was born as the bridge between Java and C#.

Microsoft knows very well that the developer community will follow the most lucrative platform and still believes that it can marginalise Java, while Windows remains a near monopoly environment. "Write once - runs only on Windows" still remains a very real challenge to Sun and Jump sends out a clear message that Microsoft has no interest and sees no real need to make concessions.

The true irony in this story rests with the question of whether Sun really cares that much anymore. Java served its hidden purpose of showing Microsoft to be an anti-competitive standards bully and times have moved on. Sun's interests are increasingly elsewhere and the great game between the two global software superpowers has moved to a higher level, the future of Web services or .net.

Simon Moores is chairman of The Research Group

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