If you're a vendor wanting to take Java onboard, join the queue. Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Silicon Graphics, SCO and Tandem have all announced plans to incorporate the programming language into their operating systems. Microsoft is the most recent Java consumer, having announced plans to adopt the language only last week.
Microsoft's Java move coincides with what Microsoft Australia managing director Chris Kelliher terms the "repositioning of Microsoft Network (MSN) as a community on the Internet" and is interpreted by some industry watchers as a retreat from the company's early plans for its Internet Explorer browser product.
Kelliher, however, says Microsoft is very supportive of the standardisation he says broad-ranging adoption of Java will help to bring about. "The whole vision of a connected world isn't going to happen without standardisation," he said. "Our philosophy on standards has always been 'embrace and extend'. We're going to embed Java in Internet Explorer 3 and look to extend the functionality from there.
"Consumers don't care what the origin of a programming language - or any other system component - is. They care about functionality and performance," Kelliher said. "Our goal is for our operating systems to provide users with the best Net experience available." Kelliher says Microsoft will embed Java into future versions of Windows 95 and Windows NT, integrating it with its Active X technology.
A double-edged sword
Some industry watchers say Microsoft's adoption of Java may result in a two-fold outcome: although it may strengthen Microsoft's position against Netscape, it may also put companies such as IBM, which intends to build the Java virtual machine into OS/2 and AIX, back in the desktop game. Moreover, widespread adoption of Java may translate to IBM, Apple and other OS vendors being able to run the same applications as Microsoft, thus compromising one of Microsoft's most visible advantages.
Under license from JavaSoft, the Sun Microsystems division that develops Java technology, Microsoft - as well as the aforementioned vendors - will be permitted to embed the Java Virtual Machine and Java class libraries into its operating systems. As a result, Java sources say developers will have easier access to Java programming on the platform of their choice, and that users will be able to run Java applets and applications outside of their Web browsers. Additionally, programs written in Java will be able to run on all platforms that license Java.
A win-win situation?
SunSoft Australia managing director Gil Thew sees vendor adoption of Java as not only a good thing for Sun, but a good thing for the computer industry and end users. "A lot of partners can now play. Microsoft has held sway over the desktop world for the last six or so years and what this does is free the game up a bit," Thew said. "We were concerned about a monopoly developing and this breaks that up.
"It's not dissimilar to the telecom scenario. There was a time when if you were fed up with Telecom you couldn't say 'I'm taking my business elsewhere'. There wasn't anywhere to go," he said. "Expanded choice is always good for an industry and for consumers."
Although Sun owns JavaSoft, Thew says the Java division is completely autonomous. "We're licensing this thing to everybody," he said. "We're not saying 'Yes, this one's OK; no, that one's not'. People like HP are fierce competitors of ours; SCO is a thorn in our side. But we license Java to them because it's a good way to grow the industry."