01:42 PM

Microsoft Opens New Windows To Old Java

Service pack for XP will support only 5-year-old version of Sun language

Microsoft's maneuvering in its ongoing legal battles is beginning to trouble some users. The latest example is its pledge last week to restore support for Sun Microsystems' Java language in Windows XP.

That would seem to put Microsoft in a conciliatory role as its federal antitrust case draws to a close. It's also intended to pre-empt a court injunction requiring Microsoft to add full Java support to the operating system, as requested by Sun in March. Some see the move as too little, too late. "What Microsoft is doing is a nonstarter," says William Heineman, a software engineer at Pfizer Inc. The Groton, Conn., pharmaceutical company has about 11,000 desktops worldwide.

Microsoft is restoring support for Java to Windows XP via a service pack set for release this summer. The problem: The install features a Java virtual machine that supports only the 5-year-old Java 1.1.4. This means newer Java programs still won't run on XP unless users install a patch directly from Sun.

Microsoft also isn't updating professional versions of its operating system, including Windows NT and 2000, to support recent Java releases such as 1.3 or 1.4. Pfizer downloads a Java 1.3 virtual machine for Windows from Sun's Web site. "It's a lot of extra work that should be unnecessary," Heineman says. He also says that many Windows applications Pfizer uses work only with older virtual machines because that's what Microsoft officially supports--they don't run properly on desktops upgraded to Java 1.3.

A legal settlement with Sun prevents Microsoft from supporting more recent editions of Java, Windows XP product manager Jim Cullinan says. The settlement also means Microsoft will again remove Java support from Windows in 18 months, when Microsoft's right to make minor changes to its Java technology expires under the deal. "If we found a security problem, we wouldn't be able to fix it," Cullinan says. "We don't want our customers exposed to that kind of risk."

But analysts say Microsoft is trying to promote its own alternatives to Java, such as C++ and ActiveX, which run only in Windows environments. Some say the strategy may backfire. Says IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky, "Users may get disgusted enough to walk away."

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