Sun and Microsoft must cooperate, or java will become a foul language

Whenever I write about Java, I get e-mail from true believers who take me to task for
not coming down harder on Microsoft Corp. for failing to implement all parts of Java and
for creating proprietary Java extensions.


I also get notes from Microsoft Windows fans who insist the only way to make Java
powerful is to let it interact with most Windows features.


And I get complaints about the general slowness of Java applications and the
uncertainty as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems Inc. prepare to battle it out in court over
the Java implementation in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 browser.


Chances are Microsoft will keep Java as part of its browser but will lose the right to
use the Java logo because it doesn't implement the full standard.


As a programming language, Java has some similarities to C++. It is used to create
dynamic client-server applications for World Wide Web servers and intranets.


There are many commercial and public-domain tools for writing Java applications, but
the Java Virtual Machine that executes the applications is individually licensed to
companies that include it with their browsers or servers.


At present, depending on how a Java application is created and how it needs to interact
with a server, Java developers may have to build separate versions of their applications
to run on Windows and Unix machines.


Government offices have too hard a time finding money to spend any on multiple versions
of the same application. Portability was supposed to be the reason for developing with
Java in the first place.


So Java's future looks bleak at this point. But there are ways to breathe new life into
the language. The question is, can we count on Microsoft and Sun to cooperate in this
effort?


It's easy to blame Microsoft for failing to follow all parts of Sun's Java design. But
there's more to it.


As has become apparent, Sun can't possibly serve as a neutral standards body while Java
evolves. Sun has too much at stake here. If it gives Microsoft any input on how Java
evolves, that could undermine what has become Sun's major weapon to combat Microsoft
dominance in the computer industry. No wonder Microsoft is turning away from Java.


But in tightly controlling the language to serve its own interests, Sun is hurting
Java's long-term survival.


As GCN has reported, Sun approached the International Standards Organization to get an
endorsement for Java, but ISO declined. Sun should give up control over the language and
let it become a true open standard governed by a nonprofit organization that also controls
the Java logo. Then ISO will likely get behind Java.


If Sun has any confidence in its developers and its marketing clout, it can compete
right along with everyone else.


Once that happens, the task of cooperation falls to Microsoft. If Java is truly open,
then Microsoft can join the nonprofit organization, too, and work to influence the
standard from there.


Ham-fisted attempts to hijack the standard will be obvious. All sides must be heard, so
that the battle for the future of Java won't be what we're seeing now--an unseemly
scrimmage between two marketing departments.


Sun, you'd better start cooperating or Microsoft will use its dominance to destroy
Java. Microsoft, you'd better take note of all the Internet developers, including
government webmasters and contractors, who demand Java for easier client-server
development. This target audience could turn on you.


If Sun cooperates, Microsoft had darned well better cooperate, too.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for GCN's
parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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