the computer language that has become the object of an almost religious revivalism, has created a virtual San Andreas fault between its developer, Sun Microsystems Inc., and Silicon Valley neighbor Hewlett-Packard Co.
At stake are millions of dollars of sales to and maintenance in industries like financial services that make extensive use of powerful computers. Java could be a key to wresting control of software standards from Microsoft Corp.
At JavaOne, a sort of revival meeting here last week, 9,000 application developers were on hand, many speaking glowingly about how easy Java made their programming tasks.
J.P. Morgan & Co. is one of many financial institutions beginning to use Java. Steven Boal, vice president of emerging-market derivatives technology, said that in half the time that another language would have required the New York banking company developed a system to provide clients with real-time updates on derivatives products.
"I'm not a fan of new technology for the sake of new technology," said Mr. Boal. "But I am when it fills a void and allows us to communicate better with our customers."
Java advocates say their approach will power the next computing revolution. And just as International Business Machines Corp.'s mainframe computing model faltered in the mid-1980s when personal computers become widespread, Sun and other believers say Java could make Microsoft stumble.
The Java motto, "write once, run anywhere," means that programmers no longer need to create business applications for every single computer operating system. Companies that rely on Java can thereby preserve their investments in earlier systems, rather than worrying about continual upgrades.
Microsoft's Windows operating system thoroughly dominates the personal computer market and in the past year it has been making inroads against the Unix system pioneered by Hewlett-Packard and Sun, among others.
"From here on, if a computer platform doesn't have great Java support it isn't going to make it in the marketplace," said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft unit.
With companies like IBM, Netscape Communications, Lucent Technologies, Novell, Apple Computer, and others supporting "100% pure Java," the attempt to ensure widespead use of the language seems like an anti-Microsoft alliance.
On top of that, Sun, Oracle Corp., and others promote the notion of the network computer, or NC, that is "thin" at the desktop and relies on network connectivity for its processing power-and, the advocates hope, on Java programs "written once to run anywhere."
But is Java capable of depriving Microsoft Corp. and its close ally, the microprocessor maker Intel Corp., of their lucrative upgrade revenues?
Hewlett-Packard is leaning in favor of Microsoft.
"Unix is a mature market and we are seeing growth on Windows NT," said Doug Chisholm, a director at Hewlett-Packard responsible for insurance and financial services. Windows NT is a Microsoft operating system increasingly adopted by financial institutions.
"We want to support that customer through the transition," said Mr. Chisholm. "A customer can say 'I have Unix, I have NT,' and turn to Hewlett-Packard."
Hewlett-Packard also is in an alliance with Intel to develop the next generation of microprocessors-chips that will be capable of running on either operating system.
While Hewlett-Packard stresses its ability to be impartial in consulting with businesses on operating-system choices, other computer industry heavy- hitters want to make such questions meaningless.
Mr. Baratz of JavaSoft pointed out the new language's ability to permit software to run on a variety of computer platforms. He called Java "the only way to practice safe computing."
The underlying strategy is to create something called a Java Virtual Machine, an intermediary program designed to operate on all existing computer operating systems-and many not-yet-defined systems-ranging in size from smart cards to large-scale server computers.
Advocates say that this intermediate program layer provides a degree of security that does not exist in other languages, particularly when they interact with programs designed to run across the Internet.
"It is the language for the Internet," Hewlett-Packard's Mr. Chisolm conceded. But it is security concerns that have kept Hewlett-Packard from falling into line behind Java.
With Java only two years in the marketplace, "We are not so sure it is secure," said Andy Hirst, Hewlett-Packard's partner manager for financial services.
But Hewlett-Packard officials say they will support Java when it has proven its usefulness. They say financial institutions are more interested in existing products like Virtual Vault, a Hewlett-Packard system based on proven, military-level security that supports Internet banking.
Microsoft officials have also agreed to allow program developers to use certain Java commands in writing programs for the Windows operating system.
But thus far the Redmond, Wash., company has more heavily promoted its own Active-X, which permits some of the features of Java programming to be used on computers running Microsoft software.
"We need to distinguish between licensing the technology and endorsing 100% pure Java," said Mr. Baratz. "Microsoft has not chosen to endorse Java, and they will not evangelize for 100% pure Java."
At a conference his company sponsored in Seattle late last month, Microsoft vice president Brad Chase said, "We're very committed to Java. We have gone out to try to be the best Java developer on the planet. We have today provided the best way to run Java-Explorer 3.0."
Mr. Chase said he was "amazed" by how much ink had been spilled about Microsoft's supposed antipathy for Java. "We have nothing up our sleeves, and it's a good language," he said.
But Microsoft's deep pockets could be a counterweight to the groundswell of support for Java. Speaking at a developer conference elsewhere in the same convention center that housed JavaOne, chairman Bill Gates said the software giant has more than $2 billion available for research and development alone.
Microsoft demonstrated the strength of its resources again over the weekend, announcing its agreement to purchase WebTV Networks Inc. for $425 million. The deal also underscored the ubiquity of Java.
WebTV created a set-top box to connect televisions to the Internet, an embodiment of the "thin client" concept. It is a Java user and just days before had announced an alliance with JavaSoft.