Regardless of your opinion about Microsoft's legal trials and tribulations over the past few years, the US District Court's January 15th ruling regarding Microsoft is likely to directly affect you as a Windows desktop user or IT support person. The order would have required Microsoft to bundle Sun Microsystems' Java technology in Windows XP within 120 days. However, on Tuesday, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that order. (For more information about the stayed order, see the News & Views section in this issue of Windows Client UPDATE.) If the order is ultimately upheld, corporate users of Windows OSs will find their job has become more complicated.
Back when an actual battle occurred between Microsoft and Sun over the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that ran on Windows, Microsoft won for a simple reason: The Microsoft Virtual Machine (Microsoft VM) worked better than Sun's JVM. Whether that victory was due to Microsoft's proprietary knowledge of Windows or Sun's lubricious behavior regarding Java and Microsoft (keep in mind that Java isn't an open standard; Sun has refused to release it to public control), many independent tests found that the Microsoft VM was faster and less problematic than JVM. Having lost on the technology playing field, Sun sued Microsoft to include the Sun Java Runtime Environment (JRE) in Windows, to the exclusion of the Microsoft VM. If Sun ultimately wins the court battle, Windows corporate environments everywhere will face a host of potential problems.
The XP retail release didn't directly include Java support, but purchasers of the OS who accessed Web pages that required Java were given the opportunity to download the Microsoft VM and add Java support. Users who upgraded to XP from Windows 2000 received the Microsoft VM with the upgrade. It's a reasonable presumption that all of your current Windows computers are running some form of the Microsoft VM; if you've kept your systems updated, they probably all have the same version of the Microsoft VM. If the court order forcing Microsoft to bundle Java in XP is upheld, all of your future Windows installations will be required to use the Sun JRE. As a consequence, you'll need to perform any product testing or evaluation that uses Java in any way on no less than the two separate environments, unless you plan to explicitly install the JRE on every Windows client in your enterprise.
The court order doesn't require you to install the JRE, and your current Microsoft VM will continue to run just fine, although Microsoft will not stop updating the VM unless the final court order requires the company to do so. The JRE will become available through Windows Update as a Recommended Update, which will simplify its distribution. However, you'll need to keep a close eye on those users you allow to access Windows Update because at the moment, there is no reason to replace the existing Microsoft VM.
If the court order is upheld, in addition to the necessity of testing two Java platforms, Windows corporate users might find it necessary to open corporate support accounts with Sun because Microsoft won't be responsible or liable for providing support for the JRE. I hope this situation won't lead to finger-pointing should problems arise when running Java within Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), but if history is any guide, that will likely be the case.
If you're interested in seeing the US District Court's order, you can find it at http://microsoft.com/presspass/java/01-21-03sunorder.pdf. And if you can show me how this order benefits any entity other than Sun (i.e., explain to me why this action will be good for consumers), I'd like to hear from you.