Competitors Plan Strategies to Counter Microsoft

By John Markoff
The New York Times

San Francisco - December 4, 1995 - Hoping to steal a march on the Microsoft's Corp.'s Internet strategy, which will be disclosed this week, a number of Silicon Valley companies plan announcements on Monday that together constitute an anti-Microsoft campaign. The most noteworthy: A plan by Sun Microsystems Inc. and Netscape Communications Corp. for a user-friendly version of the Java software technology for the Internet's World Wide Web.

Moreover, Microsoft is apparently in some internal turmoil over what strategy the computer publishing giant should take with respect to the Java language.

The program, which was originally developed by Sun and is being licensed widely and inexpensively, will in the future allow developers to write one version of their programs. This version will then run on a variety of different computers without special translation - regardless of whether they use the UNIX, Windows 95 or Macintosh operating systems.

The strategies being announced this week represent opening skirmishes in what may be the next great standards battle in the industry.

Microsoft was the clear winner in the contest over operating system standards, thanks to the company's overwhelming marketing muscle. But operating systems could play a less dominant role in the future, with increasing numbers of computers plugged into the Internet.

The Internet connections have the potential to change the industry's balance of power. If the use of the Java language in programming becomes widespread, computer users would not necessarily need to rely on operating systems as prerequisites for word-processing, spreadsheet or other programs.

Instead, the programs required to perform these functions could be delivered over the Internet. A user would need only a stripped-down system connected to the Internet.

Such developments could seriously erode Microsoft's current dominant role in the industry.

There are now competing camps within Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., debating over whether the company should license Java, according to several executives familiar with the debate. Those who argue against licensing Java are trying to consolidate support for Microsoft's competing language, Visual Basic. Those who argue for licensing say it will make Microsoft's programs more popular.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the company had no comment today on the Java debate. But Microsoft is planning its own Internet strategy briefing session on Thursday. The software company has been positioning its Visual Basic language as an Internet development tool to rival Java, but in recent weeks Microsoft seems to have been losing the war of words and is in danger of being perceived as losing the allegiance of software developers who are producing advanced products.

The challenge to Microsoft is that it may find itself losing control of the basic software standards driving the computer industry.

"What's becoming fairly clear, is that the real story here is the Internet vs. Microsoft," said Marc Andreessen, vice president of technology at Netscape. "It's a steamroller at this point. There are thousands of developers who have switched away from the Windows API."

Sun and Netscape are announcing a new version of Java that is intended to making programming more accessible to noncomputer experts. The version is known as a "scripting language," Javascript, and is based on a simple programming language already developed by Netscape. The idea is to make program development possible by people who are experienced computer users but not programmers.

"We're trying to get the Internet to move forward with everyone moving together," said Eric Schmidt, Sun's chief technology officer.

Netscape and Sun, both based in Mountain View, Calif., appear to have created a formidable alliance of almost 30 companies that will endorse the technology, including Apple Computer, Digital Equipment, America Online, AT&T, Computer Associates, Silicon Graphics, Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Informix, Intuit, Macromedia, Novell, Toshiba, and Borland.

"We're not trying to position this against Microsoft," Schmidt said. "We're trying to make sure that all companies that play in the Internet space have to play with open systems."

A number of other companies will be making Internet-related announcements on Monday including LSI Logic, the Milpitas, Calif. chip maker. LSI said it would announce its intention to design specialized low-cost chips that include all of the components necessary to produce an inexpensive computer for browsing the World Wide Web.

c. 1995 New York Times Company