Microsoft's "Java Evangelist" responds to Java Lobby requests

Java Lobby angry over Microsoft's perceived about-face

San Francisco (10/1/97) -- In an open letter to Bill Gates and Microsoft, the founder of the grass-roots Java Lobby passionately argued for Microsoft's adherence to the "write once, run anywhere" goal of Java. The result: Though no formal response has been offered by Bill, Microsoft's Java Evangelist told JavaWorld that such adherence is not forthcoming.

The Java Lobby, founded by Java developer Rick Ross in August of this year, is an independent organization that seeks to give developers a voice to raise concerns and discuss issues about the direction of Java. The Java Lobby embraces the "write once, run anywhere" principle, supporting the concepts of portability, open standards, and high performance. (See Resources for a link to the Java Lobby Web site.)

The letter, which was posted to the Java Lobby Web site early last week, expressed the Lobby's dissatisfaction with what it views as Microsoft's move to fragment and balkanize Java. The discussion boiled down to these two key topics:

  1. Java 1.1 support in Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0

  2. Microsoft's stance on shipping the Java Foundation Classes (JFC) and future Java 1.2 APIs as standard parts of Windows and IE

In response to the request for Java 1.1 support in IE, Microsoft's Java Evangelist Brad Merrill told JavaWorld, "Microsoft will ship full 1.1 compatibility [in the new release of IE] -- except for RMI [Remote Method Invocation] and JNI [Java Native Interface]." He suggested that the lack of support for these two APIs was likely due to "time, complexity, compatibility, and competition ... you can pick any two." Ross scoffed at these "excuses," noting that he would rather see such companies standing up for freedom of choice (concerning hardware and software decisions), integrity, and individual rights, rather than simply trying to attain a bottom line. Ross says he realizes that his rhetoric may be dismissed because of its lofty idealist overtones, but he feels strongly "that the individual still matters and that we should be entitled to an expectation of basic decency in the conduct of industry leaders."

In terms of the request for support of the JFC and other APIs, Merrill says Microsoft will not support the JFC, while it will consider support of future Sun APIs "on a case-by-case basis. We're not going to take everything JavaSoft determines as a standard as our gospel."

"I don't disagree with developers trying to gain a voice," added Merrill, noting that he believes Microsoft listens to developers. He did say, however, that developers "can't just go whining to corporations" and expect companies to solve all their problems for free," Merrill says. "A lot of developers want Microsoft to solve their problems. We think we offer some solid technologies to solve developers' problems ... our VM [virtual machine] kicks butt. ... If you don't like our implementation [of Java], then why not use the JDK?"

Ross's response: "I don't know what to call what Microsoft is doing, but it's not Java." Ross describes the "Java core platform" as a combination of the language, the VM and its bytecodes, and the full class libraries. He emphasizes cross-platform portability, and sees Microsoft's decision not to ship what he considers a fully-compliant Java core platform in the new release of IE as evidence that Microsoft wants to balkanize Java. "I think that the touchstone for comparison is whether the implementor is trying to produce a portable implementation of Java or whether they are trying not to."

Ross explains that his feelings about Microsoft's stance stem from what he sees as a complete about-face in regard to the company's support for Java. When Microsoft licensed Java in the spring of 1996, the implication was that the company would provide full support for the core Java platform. Java developers applauded Microsoft's move to be part of a non-proprietary technology, and began developing with Java in earnest.

"Many of us have devoted a significant portion of our resources to Java development," laments Ross, "[based] on the premise that Microsoft would honor its commitment to support the cross-platform portability of Java."

It is Microsoft's commitment (both moral and legal) that's in question now. Sun CEO Scott McNealy has threatened to pull Microsoft's license for apparent violations, but Microsoft contends it has adhered to the agreement. (No one but Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are privy to the terms of the Java licensing agreement signed by Microsoft.)

And outside the legal arena, the Java Lobby contends Microsoft has failed to carry out its earlier public commitments to support Java.

In a letter sent to the Java Lobby membership on October 1, Ross referenced an article published early last year in OneMind. In this article, author Jeff Sutherland details his meeting with Cornelius Willis, director of platform marketing at Microsoft. Sutherland goes on to describe what he sees as the Microsoft message to developers:

We want developers to know that we are going to give them a choice with safety. We will enable everything for both Java and Visual Basic, JavaScript, and VBScript. Everything will run in Netscape, we will be browser independent. We are going to give developers maximum opportunity to take advantage of everything out there on the Net even if it doesn't belong to Microsoft. And we are going to provide maximum leverage for developers to use the tools they know and love on multiple platforms. ("Microsoft and the Internet Wars: Freedom Fighters," OneMind, 1996)

Editor's Note:

The previous version of this article misinterpreted this statement as a direct quotation from Cornelius Willis.


regrets the error. See Jeff Sutherland's description regarding the context of this excerpt at

In that same letter, Ross referenced another article -- this one in a recent issue of Computerworld -- in which Willis is quoted referring to the Lobby's open letter to Microsoft, and specifically to Ross: "This guy is hanging on a limb. Anybody riding on Java is, and that's very sad...and there will be lots more disappointed as they realize how bad it's going to get."

Ross cites these two passages as evidence that Microsoft is contradicting itself. "I want to know why I should believe anything else this company says ... and I would like to ask everyone to ask themselves the same question," he says. Ross especially takes issue with what he sees as the general lack of integrity on the part of Microsoft, saying, "What I want to know is whose child doesn't get to eat or whose rent doesn't get paid because Microsoft has turned its back on a promise. The spirit of Java -- and everyone knows it -- is portability, and it involves a dedication to try to achieve the 'write once, run anywhere' goal."

Learn more about this topic

  • The Java Lobby
  • "Developers rally to Java Lobby, petition Gates" (Computerworld 9/29/97)
  • Do you care about "write once, run anywhere"? Take the JavaWorld Reader Poll!
  • The dispute between Sun and Microsoft goes to the courts. Find out the details of Sun's lawsuit in this article
  • A developer's perspective on what the lawsuit means to Java developers