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Microsoft's Java Push Getting Cold?

-- by Lou Grinzo

No one expected the road to full Java compatibility-the ability to run software written in native Java code on any platform at any time-to be a smooth one. Even so, the dust has started flying between Microsoft and Sun earlier than expected.

For example, the rumors that Microsoft won't implement the Java Native Interface (JNI) component of Java 1.1 are true. "Microsoft has no obligation to support JNI," said Charles Fitzgerald, program manager with Microsoft's Internet Client Collaboration Division. "We can say Microsoft has complete discretion over what we ship with our products. Sun will likely claim we have to do whatever crap they toss over the wall, but we can do whatever we want."

Maybe not. According to George Paolini, director of corporate marketing at Javasoft, all Java licensees are actually required to support the entire release within the time frame each contract defines. Besides, JNI-the native method interface that allows Java programs to call non-Java code-was designed in tandem with Java licensees, and Sun claims to have delivered what "the overwhelming number of licensees had requested." In fact, Microsoft itself participated in the design process.

So what went wrong? Microsoft "just didn't like the outcome," Paolini said. "It did not want a native method interface that allowed developers to access code on any other platform than Win32." Of course, the company also refused to implement JavaBeans, then changed its mind. Sun and Microsoft are said to be negotiating the JNI issue, and there may yet be a happy resolution.

But what will it mean for users if Sun and Microsoft can't-or just don't-come to terms? For starters, Microsoft may no longer be able to distribute Visual J++ or its own Java implementation. Windows users would then have to look elsewhere for support, but since all other licensees are expected to implement the entire release, there would be no shortage of alternatives. Far more serious is the possibility that Microsoft would lose its ability to support Java applets in Internet Explorer.

Windows Magazine, September 1997, page 56.

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