Microsoft's Java strategy is taking a nefarious turn. 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 dream.
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 they use. In the US, there are 1.8 million programmers writing commercial Visual Basic programs. Other estimates put the number of Java programmers at 300,000 and growing fast.
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 optimised Java applications for Windows. Choice at the point of a gun is a beautiful thing.
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 industry-wide initiative, no matter how well-supported? Won't many of companies extend Java in ways similar to SQL and Unix anyway?
Certainly, Microsoft could have stuck with the cross-platform direction longer. Java applications, optimised and cross-platform capable, benefit everyone.
A bolder and stronger Microsoft monopoly means higher prices and fewer alternatives, although the company sometimes argues that choice means disorder, confusion and a languishing software development industry.
It is disappointing that Microsoft may have figured out how to undermine Java rather than fully support the language's high-minded, yet achievable, objectives.
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