Sun calls on Web sites to support Java

Sun Microsystems Inc. hopes to enlist some of the Internet’s most popular Web sites to help promote the use of Java on PCs, as the programming language’s place on the desktop remains uncertain.

Java has proven popular among software developers in part because it can run on a wide range of computing platforms with little changes to an application’s underlying code. The technology can be used to develop applications ranging from games that run on cell phones to sophisticated business programs that sit on high-end servers.

To help spur the use of Java on PCs running the Windows XP operating system, Sun is in the process of striking deals with major Web sites that will make Sun’s technology available as a simple download, said Rich Green, Sun’s vice-president and general manager of Java software.

Green wasn’t ready yet to say which companies will take part in the project, but said Web sites owned by the likes of Yahoo Inc. and AOL Time Warner Inc. would make good partners for Sun.

“We are focusing our energy on 20 or 30 sites that would give Java to anyone for free,” Green said. “Yahoo sponsors a lot of Java-based games. They would be motivated to keep that site fresh.”

While its position on small computing devices and big servers appears strong, Java’s future on the PC has faced uncertainty. Microsoft Corp. and Sun have battled over the technology since 1997, primarily because Sun felt Microsoft was making changes to Java that would limit its ability to run on any platform.

The companies squared off in a lengthy lawsuit and eventually settled the matter in January. As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to pay Sun US$20 million and was limited to using an older version of Java in its products.

Following the dispute, Microsoft decided not to include a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) with Windows XP. A JVM is a program that sits on a user’s PC and allows them to run Java applications. Without a JVM, users would not be able to run Java applets such as stock tickers and games that are used on some Web sites.

PC makers such as Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. have said they will include a JVM with their Windows XP machines. However, Compaq and Dell use an older version of the JVM made by Microsoft. Sun is in talks with “five or six of the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers)” to get a more updated JVM included with Windows XP, Green said.

“If it worked out, they would probably put the JVM on the second or third wave of the XP rollout,” Green said.

In addition, Sun hopes to persuade leading Web sites to offer a JVM that users can download to their desktop and notebook PCs, he said.

Microsoft may be forced to include a more recent version of the JVM with Windows XP in any case, if the District of Columbia and the nine states that chose not to settle with Microsoft in the U.S. government’s antitrust case against the company have their way. A set of remedies proposed by those plaintiffs includes a provision that would require Microsoft to include with Windows a JVM that is compatible with the latest version of Java.

“We would obviously like that because it fulfills the offer we have had outstanding for a long time,” Green said. “All we are asking from any licensee is that you get out the latest stuff in a set amount of time from its release and you run the compatibility tests.”

Sun Microsystems Canada in Markham, Ont., is at