This PC Week
A nefarious plot or business reality?
By John Dodge
Microsoft's Java strategy is taking a nefarious turn. The original goal
of Java--write once, run anywhere--is slipping away. Java's founders
fancied that Java would bring down the proprietary walls that isolate
systems. But Microsoft's plans could very well spell the end of the Java
Will Microsoft succeed with its Java hegemony? Consider this: At a
Comdex panel on the future of Java, a Microsoft executive said the
company conducts research into what platforms programmers are using. The
company surveys households, asking if a programmer resides there and, if
so, what tools the programmer uses. In the United States alone, there
are 1.8 million programmers writing commercial Visual Basic programs.
Other estimates put the number of Java programmers at 300,000 and
Population-based research that pinpoints trends in programming languages
is inordinately expensive. Only a handful of companies have the
resources to conduct such research. And only Microsoft would call
households to unearth programming trends. Just after the vinyl siding
peddler interrupts your dinner, the phone rings again. This time, the
caller asks if there's a programmer in the house.
Based on precise survey data, Microsoft thinks it can pull off the
subversion of Java. Pointing to compromise and slowness in the
cross-platform approach, Microsoft will try to persuade programmers to
write Java applications developed only for Windows. The message from
Redmond is that you can write mediocre cross-platform Java applications
or create optimized Java applications for Windows. Choice at the point
of a gun is a beautiful thing.
"It's Unix all over again," a Microsoft executive gleefully shouted
recently. Let Microsoft show the way.
Is it naive to expect Microsoft not to leverage and strengthen its
Windows franchise? Would it be stupid for Microsoft to fully support the
cross-platform nature of Java? Is this another bold gambit like
Microsoft's abandonment of OS/2? Is Microsoft so powerful it can
subordinate any industrywide initiative, no matter how well-backed?
Won't a lot of companies extend Java in ways similar to SQL and Unix
Certainly, Microsoft could have stuck with the cross-platform direction
longer. Java applications, optimized and cross-platform, benefit
everyone. A bolder and stronger Microsoft monopoly means higher prices
and fewer alternatives. Microsoft sometimes argues that choice means
disorder, confusion and a languishing software industry. In the end,
I'll take the choice conceived by Java's creators.
It is disappointing that Microsoft may have figured out how to bust Java
rather than flourish in full support of the language's high-minded, yet