Microsoft hasn't been getting a terrific press so far in the antitrust action, but today the company seems to have had a spectacular bout of lateral thinking.
What about pulling all the journalists in and telling them what it all means before, er, it all happens? It's an interesting innovation, anyway.
Microsoft was today expecting the arrival in court of Sun VP and Java creator James Gosling, so it held a press conference to explain what it was all going to mean, and the arguments it was going to make. Radical, yes?
Apparently the memos were all a ghastly mistake. In 1996 Bill Gates did indeed say that Java scared him, and at that time various Microsoft execs did indeed go into overdrive over the threat of Java. But hey, they were misinformed. According to Microsoft group product manager Charles Fitzgerald, most of Microsoft's emails concerning Java stem from 1996, and were written in response to the hype from Sun.
Sun has indeed been the unwilling supplier of numerous 'Java will kill Windows' memos and anecdotes (as produced by Microsoft in the Sun-Microsoft action), so you could say Fitzgerald has a point.
Sun really was/is out to get Microsoft, so when news of the projected invasion came, well, naturally Microsoft's hard-hitters were going to get pretty verbally voluble. But that was then, and this is now.
Disarmingly, Fitzgerald points out that all of this stuff was before the shortcomings of Java became known. Java, he says, doesn't work as advertised, and is a lowest common denominator solution. So Java turned out not to be a danger, so Microsoft execs stopped exchanging stinking memos about Java after 1996.
Ben Slivka, who was handling Java strategy at the time, can't have heard this, and wrote to Gates in April 1997: "How do we wrest control of Java away from Sun? …How we turn Java into just the latest, best way to write Windows applications?" (Unfortunate not 1996 Java memo story).
Apart from that, once it had decided Java was a mess (yes, there's more to this intriguing pitch), Microsoft attempted to help Sun out of its difficulties. Seeing what a pig's ear Sun was making of the whole thing, Microsoft placed its efforts behind the development of a Windows implementation of Java that would work better and faster, thus giving developers more choice.
Fitzgerald apparently (we weren't invited, strangely) didn't explain how these efforts dovetailed with other initiatives -- like, for example, licensing a JVM from HP because Microsoft's own wasn't battle-ready yet. ® Complete Register trial coverage