A forum for whom?

EXE Magazine, August 1997

One of the event at IT Expo was the launch of the Java Forum. The invite sounded impressive: representatives of Sun Microsystems, IBM, Microsoft, Netscape, Corel, Lotus, Borland, Novell, Oracle and Symantec. I hope I havent forgotten anyone. It was the opportunity to meet at the same time many of the big players in the Java field. Not to be missed.

After an introduction where we learned that ‘the Java Forum's purpose is to offer an information channel and support network between the principal Java ISVs and members of the Forum's principally corporate audience of IT Directors and network managers’, it was at last the long awaited Q&A time. First a general question gave Jeremy Gittins of Microsoft the opportunity to express the strong commitment of Microsoft to everything Java – no mention of J/Direct. Then I tried to start a discussion between Simon Phipps of IBM and Jeremy Gittins. You see, it's not that often that one has the opportunity to have representatives from both IBM and Microsoft at the same time to talk about Java. It was the first time for me. I wouldn't have missed such an opportunity. Well, to cut a long story short, the MC told us that this wasn't the point of the announcement. It was eventually revealed, after the event, that participants had been warned not to make any comment on any of the other companies present. Disappointing, isn't it?

Let's try to summarise some of the views on Java (expressed at previous events). Sun Microsystems has started Java or Java started at Sun. Whichever way it doesn't matter much now. Sun is trying to have Java officially recognised as a standard but at the same time doesn't seem willing to relinquish all its control. Microsoft has stated numerous time that it is wholly committed to Java, but seems more committed to its own version of Java. Java is primarily a client language/operating system/environment and Microsoft has the biggest share of the desktop, hence it considers it can control Java on the desktop and introduce ‘features’ such as J/Direct. Both Sun and IBM promote Java as the way to go as it will give you platform independence. Officially, they do not consider Microsoft as any threat at all. Well, Netscape which embraces the same goals as its partners IBM and Sun, does seem to consider Microsoft as a very real threat which shouldn't be simply ignored. Novell is not as strong but has similar views.

In other words, it's a mess. The different point of views of the Pure Java partners though not exactly the same appear to be compatible. Microsoft has definitely a different approach. Simon Phipps commented rather cynically about the recent announcement of J/Direct: ‘Microsoft felt Java had an unfair advantage over ActiveX by being secure so decided to level the playing field by breaking Java rather than by securing ActiveX.’ I believe I would have had a better understanding of where Java is heading to if there had been a frank open discussion between all the representatives present.

OK, so it's a forum with one voice where differences between ISVs are muffled. It's probably better to hear the voice of the users. There we face another problem: for the first year, the Forum is financed by these ISVs. The Research Group, the Forum's organiser, is convinced that the simple fact that all these ISVs are putting money in the kettle is enough to guarantee its independence. Ahem, wasn't that a major issue for the United Nations?

David Mery

(C)1997, Centaur Communications Ltd. Reproduced with the kind permission of EXE Magazine.