Reversing last year's hard-line stance, Microsoft today disclosed that an upcoming update to its Windows XP desktop operating system will include the software code necessary to run Java applications.
The first Service Pack for Windows XP will ship with Microsoft's Java virtual machine (JVM) as part of the default installation, according to a written statement issued by Microsoft's lead product manager, Jim Cullinan. But Microsoft said the decision to include the JVM in the Windows XP Service Pack doesn't change its long-term plans to remove Java support from Windows.
"They're still not Java folks, but they are trying to help out some customers in the short term," said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.
Smith said the decision to include Java support in the Windows XP Service Pack won't have a huge impact on corporate developers, who usually make arrangements to ensure that their users have the JVMs necessary to run their applications. He called the Microsoft decision "largely symbolic".
Cullinan said today's decision came in response to Sun Microsystems' recent lawsuit against the software giant. Microsoft currently gives customers the option of downloading its JVM "on demand" when they encounter a Java applet. But Sun had claimed that the installation-on-demand option violated a settlement agreement that the two vendors had reached.
"We wanted to take this issue off the table in the new lawsuit, while minimising any potential impact on our customers," Cullinan said.
Sun couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
Microsoft said the settlement agreement with Sun prevents Microsoft from making any changes, including security fixes, to its Java implementation after January 1, 2004. "We will not put our customers or Windows at risk, so you can anticipate that there will be no Java in Windows from that point forward," Cullinan said.
Last July, Microsoft first disclosed that its Windows XP operating system wouldn't ship with the JVM code needed to run Java applications. Instead, Microsoft offered a downloadable version of its own JVM, which supports Version 1.1.4 of Sun's Java technology. That version isn't the most current version available.
John Meyer, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said that in the long run, Sun would prefer that Microsoft ship the latest version of the JVM.
Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group, said Microsoft has been "beaten up" since its decision to remove Java support and, with today's announcement, may be making concessions both to address that criticism as well as the ongoing litigation.
Murphy said the support for Java in Windows XP may help some corporate IT shops that push Java applet-based interfaces to their customers via the Internet. But he said few companies now do that, and the decision will have limited impact.
"Most corporations are pushing thin-client interfaces rather than applets, because thin clients now have much richer capabilities than they did in the past," Murphy said.