Power User: Avoiding Java's jolt

John McCormick

Am I the only person who thinks Java doesn't work very well? Judging from the way so many developers love the programming language despite the fact it keeps getting worse, I guess I am. My advice to federal Web developers: When it comes to Java, just say no.

Java compatibility problems, the justifiable fear of what may hide in downloaded code and the recent discovery of some critical security vulnerabilities in Java should make anyone cautious. As Sun Microsystems Inc. recently reported, 'A vulnerability in the Java Plug-in may allow an untrusted applet to escalate privileges, through JavaScript calling into Java code, including reading and writing files with the privileges of the user running the applet.'

And really, why should you go down the Java path anyway? Virtually everyone accessing your Web site will be using Microsoft Internet Explorer or a browser so compatible with Explorer that it's almost the same thing. So do folks a favor and, where possible, find a way other than Java code to make your site more useful'or at least stick to the simplest code possible.

Last week, I tried to send a package from FedEx.com but couldn't get to the screen to print out the label. Guess what? It was a Java problem.

I use an online broker that uses Java code so I can view real-time streaming quotes. Some days it takes just a few seconds to load the Java applet; other days it doesn't work after dozens of tries. Is it just me, or is this sort of problem becoming common and intolerable?

Sure, it could be Microsoft's fault. All this is happening on my systems that run Windows XP Pro and XP Pro SP2. But it does little good to assign blame in the ongoing battle between Sun and Mr. Softie.

But fear not. Although I can't fix Java I do have a workaround to help those of you who, like me, take advantage of all your RAM to open dozens of Explorer windows at a time using the file, new, window command (or the ctrl+n shortcut). If you have problems with your browser crashing, or if you use Java sites that work one day but not the next, here's a little trick.

Many of my Java problems appear to come from that mysterious and probably mythical malady referred to as 'bit rot.' Put simply, software code stops working correctly over time. Keeping a window open too long causes some Java apps to fail, often to the point where they no longer load properly.

If you encounter this phenomenon after opening several browser windows, try something slightly different. Instead of opening browser windows using the file, new, window command, group your online activities into separate Explorer sessions. In other words, rather than launching Explorer once and opening several windows, launch it more than once and run fewer windows in each app session.

It turns out reopening Explorer'from the desktop or Start menu'isn't the same as cloning an open window.

I've found that Java apps that won't run or reopen in a cloned window often work fine if I start a brand-new session'even if I don't close my existing session. And that way I don't have to reload the other pages I was using.

This also comes in handy for run-of-the-mill Explorer crashes. Running separate sessions instead of cloned windows means only the cloned windows go away.

Problem solved? Mostly. I still can't get FedEx.com to work right.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at owerusr@yahoo.com.

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