Microsoft JVM support to get extension

Microsoft Corp. announced on Tuesday that users of its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) would have an extra three years to stop using the software and migrate to either Microsoft .Net or another Java product.

The Microsoft JVM allows certain types of programs, called Java applications or Java applets, to run on a computer. Java applets are commonly used to make more dynamic Web sites, such as banking and shopping sites.

The decision to extend support until Dec. 31, 2007, follows a settlement and collaboration pact that Microsoft struck with Sun Microsystems Inc. in early April. In previous months the two companies did not exactly see eye-to-eye on Microsoft’s decision to end its support for the software, to the chagrin of many developers who built applications to work with the software.

Microsoft was set to end support for its JVM on September 30, a date that has already changed a couple of times.

The companies settled a three-year-old breach of contract lawsuit in January 2001 that Sun had filed against Microsoft. Sun, the creator of Java, had accused Microsoft of violating a license and distribution agreement by distributing a version of Java that was not compatible with Sun’s. As part of the settlement, Microsoft paid Sun US$20 million and agreed to plan to retire products that included its allegedly incompatible Java distribution source code and compatibility test suites to support the Microsoft JVM.

“The Microsoft JVM component is used by a number of customers, it’s not our first choice to leave anyone unsupported,” said Mark Relph, national manager, developer and platform team, Microsoft Canada Co.

“Really the extension is a good thing for customers…they will be very aware that this end of life process is happening and they will have a long time to migrate away to other technologies,” he added.

For a larger organization, the extra couple of years will probably go by rather quickly, but it gives them more time to come up with contingency plans, he added.

As for customers that might be interested in keeping the Microsoft JVM, Relph said Microsoft doesn’t recommend it, but he explained that there’s no time bomb in the product.

“This is a deadline set on paper and not in technology,” he said. “If they choose to keep using it, they are free to do that, but customers should be aware that between now and 2007, Microsoft will continue to issue security patches and not any enhancements.”

Beyond that date, the security patches will cease to exist. The Microsoft JVM will be put into an end-of-life cycle and will not be shipped on new PCs.

Migrating options include Microsoft .Net; other rendering technologies include Microsoft, dynamic HTML (DHTML), Macromedia Flash and others; or switching to a third-party Java run-time environment.

Relph said that while migrating to .Net is certainly an option, it’s not something that Microsoft is trying to push. Instead it wants customers to chose what works best for them, he said.

Extending support is good news for users, said John Rymer, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based vice-president at Forrester Research Inc. “Users faced a forced migration, essentially one that created no value, replacing one JVM with another,” he said. Many users aren’t interested in migrating to Microsoft’s .Net platform but want to stay with Java, he said.

“There is cost and time involved in the migration. Users have gotten a reprieve as a result of this peace treaty with Sun. However, they still will face migration at some point, Microsoft has been pretty adamant about not supporting Java,” Rymer said. Keeping the Microsoft JVM after support expires would be a security risk, he said

Going forward, Rymer sees two basic scenarios. Customers will have to drop the Microsoft JVM — “2007 is a pretty relaxed schedule,” he said — or Microsoft will reach a new licensing agreement for Java with Sun.

“I don’t think it is an immediate possibility, but depending on how they get along and how their businesses coincide, we may see Microsoft license Java from Sun again,” Rymer said.

-With files from IDG News Service

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