IDG logo

Advertise with InfoWorld

SiteMap News Test Center Opinions Forums Careers Stock Quote Subject Indexes About Us Search Subscribe Home [Window Manager]

December 1, 1997

Sabotaging Java hurts Microsoft's industry credibility

I've tried to stay out of the recent war between Microsoft and Sun over the version of Java that is in Internet Explorer 4.0. Is it really compatible with Java or is it not? I guess it's been so long since I expected a Microsoft product to be compatible with anything else that I'm not surprised Microsoft shipped a product that's more like instant coffee than pure Java.

But recently, I've been dragged into the controversy, mostly by readers sending me dispatches from the front and asking my opinion about the biggest split since Microsoft left IBM holding OS/2. So although most weeks I focus on giving readers tools to fix Windows' bugs and holes, this week I'm taking a look at a broader issue: the big choice that the computer industry and buyers face.

I haven't attended any of the court sessions where Sun is suing Microsoft. I didn't attend Ralph Nader's November conference in Washington. But these events signify a fork in the road that will determine whether the computer industry will take the path of innovation or continue down the path of monopoly.

The best resource I've found to understand exactly how Microsoft has tried to sabotage the promise of a platform-independent Java is a description of Explorer 4.0 by writer John Zukowski. His article, from JavaWorld, can be found at In a step-by-step analysis, Zukowski details at least seven different areas where Microsoft has changed Java in Explorer 4.0. The InfoWorld Test Center describes several of these changes as well.

The fact that many of these changes are minor is beside the point. Requiring developers to learn specific programming work-arounds to run on each platform destroys the promise that programs could easily be written to run on different systems. More serious than programming differences is the fact that Microsoft refuses to include Java features such as the Java Native Interface and Remote Method Invocation.

I realize that Java, as it exists today, is a long way from running exactly the same program on different platforms. But the vision is clear: that everyone from the smallest developer to the largest corporation can write applications that work on all types of computers. This vision is worth making Microsoft honor its commitments to Sun and to its customers.

The immediate effect of Microsoft's sabotage of Java is on companies and developers that believed that Microsoft might actually support the emerging industry standard. So far, 5,000 developers have joined an organization called Java Lobby to defend their livelihood (

But the long-term effect will be on all computer users who had hoped that things would become simpler and easier. It looks like we are all going to have to work toward cheaper and better computer devices without Microsoft in the lead. I can hardly see, after this stab in the back by Microsoft, why any well-managed company would consider entering into a contract that depends on Microsoft's doing anything it says it will do.

Microsoft has posted a page making its position clear: "Microsoft is not committed to supporting any class library that happens to be given the Java name." (See

Such arrogance will only hurt Microsoft in the end. It will help companies that offer real standards give us true independence.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.

Missed a column? Go back for more.

Copyright © 1997 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.


Copyright © 2002. InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. is a member of complies with the ASME guidelines with IDG extensions For New media.