November 18, 1998 3:05 PM PST

Developers mixed on Java ruling

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Software developers ran long on opinion but short on agreement in the wake of a preliminary injunction against Microsoft in its licensing dispute with Sun Microsystems, curtailing the software giant's ability add its own extensions to the Java computer language.

While some were jubilant, others feared that the ruling will cripple their businesses.

"It's a great decision," said software developer Raul Acevedo of Cantara Consulting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Java is an emerging standard. You want to keep it pure so people can actually use it. If it starts to splinter and fracture, it goes to hell."

Dennis Simpson, a programmer with August Associates, agreed. Microsoft's Windows-specific extensions to the Java language "would lock more and more people into Windows," he said, noting that Java was meant to work identically on any system. Ideally, "you write an application once and know it's going to run" on any computer, Simpson added.

But Bill Rapoza, a software engineer at Biotronik, called the ruling a setback. "We produce Windows software, and have absolutely no need for the 'portability' of Sun's 'pure Java,'" he said.

"This ruling can have very serious financial consequences for our company if we are forced to redesign and rewrite our software," added Zor Gorolev, president of IntraActive Software

As reported, a federal judge gave Microsoft 90 days to stop selling software--including Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4.0--that includes its version of the Java technology and Windows-only extensions to the Java language.

The injunction forbids Microsoft from adding further extensions to Java. In addition, if the eventual outcome of the trial is the same as yesterday's ruling, the court may forbid Microsoft from adding any extensions at all to Sun's version of Java.

Also in the 90-day time frame, Microsoft's Java development products must be able to produce Java code that passes Sun's Java compliance tests. The ruling further requires that development software be set to produce Sun-compatible Java code by default. That ruling allows for Microsoft's current extensions to Java, though Microsoft products must alert users when they use the Microsoft extensions.

The injunction wasn't a total victory for Sun, which had requested that Microsoft immediately stop shipping its Java development software. The judge ruled that stopping these shipments immediately "would cause significant harm to innocent third-party software developers."

Acevedo said Microsoft's extensions to Java were a "classic Microsoft" ploy to "embrace and extend, [and try] to make something into its own," adding, "Microsoft is terrified of Java, and is doing anything it can to splinter Java."

Extending Java to create several versions of the language would mean chaos, Acevedo added. It would be similar to the problems Web designers face in trying to write different versions of Web pages for Netscape and Microsoft browsers.

But Gorolev said the ruling actually might lead to further fracturing of the Java community, since it may force Microsoft to develop its own version of Java.

But could the ruling end up hurting both Sun and Java by forcing Microsoft to abandon Java altogether? Java developers were wary of such an outcome, since Java quickly has become a favorite language for developers, but Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan didn't rule out that scenario when asked about the company's Java plans. While Microsoft doesn't plan to drop support for Java right now, he said, the ultimate support for Java is a long-term business decision that has yet to be made.

Developers criticized Sun as well as Microsoft in how Java has been handled.

For one thing, Java isn't a unified standard, even without Microsoft's additions. Simpson noted that different Web browsers implement different versions of the Java language. It often takes a long time for large companies to switch, for example, from Internet Explorer 3.0 to 4.0, he said.

"Sun has a lot of work to do to clean up its own act," Acevedo added. "A lot of people are suspicious of Sun controlling the Java standards process, but overall I think this [ruling] is a great thing. As a developer, it's great that Sun gets to win this one."

Microsoft, for its part, defended its extensions as a valuable addition to Java. "We believe it is still important that Microsoft should be providing choice to developers," said Paul Maritz, the software giant's group vice president. "At this point in time we remain committed to doing that, providing a high-quality Java environment that includes those [features] that exploit Windows environments."

Cambridge, Massachusetts, programmer Aubrey Francois agreed with Microsoft's argument. "Sun's implementation of Java is fine if you're going to be making applets for computers all over the Internet. But I develop multimedia applications, and I'm tired of waiting for Sun to ship a usable product," he said. "Microsoft opened up the world of Windows to Java programmers. As a developer, I think that Sun's win is rather unfortunate.

"Anyone should appreciate the ease of developing with Java over [programming language] C++, and Microsoft's extensions allowed Java to go into areas previously reserved for C++," he added..

Francois wasn't alone in his support for Microsoft's enhancements to Java. "In the end, I have to support Microsoft because the Java language alone, even with all the new Java 1.2 packages, does not provide all the power and functionality I need to develop the kind of solutions our customers demand," said Jamie Thomas, who develops Internet applications at Renaissance Interactive. "Microsoft has provided me the fastest means to tap into both their powerful operating system and the wealth of component technologies written in non-Java languages without having to wait for Sun to provide similar, yet always crippled, implementations."

As a result of the decision, Sun said, "Developers will now be able to write native code so that it can access Java code across all implementations," according to Alan Baratz, president of Java Software.

Baratz reiterated that the ruling means Microsoft's Java developer tools must warn users that, by using Microsoft's Windows-specific keywords and compiler directives, the tools won't work anywhere except in Microsoft's version of the Java Virtual Machine.

News.com's Stephanie Miles and Tim Clark contributed to this report.

 

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