In a huge win for Java maker Sun Microsystems, the world's two biggest PC makers have agreed to bundle the technology in every Windows XP-based PC they sell. This move ensures that users who purchase PCs made by Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard (HP) will be able to access and run Java applications, services, and applets without having to install additional software, and it nicely bypasses a decision by Microsoft to stop bundling Java in its dominant operating system. Currently, users wishing to take advantage of a modern Java version are forced to find and install the product themselves.

"The agreement we reached \[with Dell and HP\] is wide-ranging," said Sun's James Gosling, the person who lead the development of Java. "That \[agreement\] is an enormous scale of opportunity." HP says it will bundle Java in every Windows XP-based desktop PC and notebook it sells, while Dell will do the same, but also bundle the technology in Linux-based systems as well.

The fight between Sun and Microsoft over Java is far from over, and it has a complicated history. Microsoft first licensed Java in late 1995, agreeing to bundle the technology in Internet Explorer, Windows, and other products that connected to the Web. But Microsoft modified Java to make it perform better and offer additional features under Windows, a move Sun decried because it violated Sun's Java license and confused the market. Sun sued Microsoft, and eventually the two companies settled, with Microsoft essentially dropping support for Java. But after Microsoft lost its antitrust battle with the US government, Sun filed a new private antitrust suit against Microsoft, citing evidence that arose in the wider federal case. A federal judge ordered Microsoft to immediately begin bundling Sun's Java technology in Windows XP, forcing Microsoft to announce a special SP1b release of Windows XP that would include the technology. But an appellate court judge stayed that order, delaying XP SP1b, and now the two companies are waiting until the trial resumes late this year. Confused? You're not alone: I've only glossed over the details here, and it would require a book-length document to actually work out the intricacies of this case.

In any event, snagging the world's two biggest PC makers is a huge coup for Sun, and one that could significantly boost Java, especially if Sun should lose its Windows bundling decision in the appeals process. Because Windows is distributed with hundreds of millions of new PCs every year, it's still the most effective way to distribute technology to users.