IT is rare indeed for a computer programming language to be a big story on television or in the popular press, but that is exactly what Sun Microsystem's new language Java has done. Perhaps the biggest news about this is that it is being seen as the one thing that may put a dent in the giant software machinery of Microsoft. Rumours about the big blow this would mean for Microsoft were rife at a recent JavaOne conference held in San Francisco. Most of the people attending were programmers and developers who nearly all had some kind of grudge against Microsoft so their antagonism was understandable. Nevertheless, the question has popped up: should Microsoft be worried about Java and its ubiquitous conquest of the Internet? For the past 15 years Microsoft has dominated the desktop PC software business. For the past 10 years, Microsoft has had little competition. The feeling among many developers is that Microsoft has simply become too big to handle, too big to trust and far too arrogant. It is often accused of having no sense of humour as well. What excites people about Java is that it is an interesting technology and one that could hurt Microsoft. So what is Java? Java is a programming language that will run on virtually all computer platforms thereby making it considerably easier for developers who will no longer have to decide to write for DOS, Windows, MacOS, Unix and a host of other systems. Write it once in Java and it will run on the lot of them. Java has also been designed to run well over networks, particularly the mother of all networks, the Internet. Much is being promised and expected of Java and it looks as if it may be able to deliver. Sun Microsystems is running at full pace to support Java and is being pressed by developers who want it. Java is not just a programming language for computers and the Internet. At JavaOne, announcements came from several Japanese electronics giants saying they would make or support Java chips, microprocessors that will be able to run Java code. This means that within a few years there could be Java chips in everything from the toaster to the telephone. It would then be possible, theoretically, to programme these devices and access them from the Internet. This, at least, is the promise and, for the moment, it would appear that many people are excited about it and that they believe in it. Everyone, except Microsoft. Microsoft's vice-like grip on the desktop could be seriously loosened by Java. Considering how enthusiastic the supporters of Java are and how numerous they are, some would say it has already begun to happen. At JavaOne, there was a developer who claimed to have inside information about management battles going on at Microsoft. These battles, he said, were being fought by young millionaires who no longer really cared about their work but who were looking only for people to blame for Microsoft's big mistake of missing out on the Internet. This could be an exaggeration but it is also likely to be true in spirit. Microsoft has been playing 'catch up' on Internet matters and trying to get its now rather large organisation moving. It would seem it is proving far more difficult than anyone expected. The biggest problem is not Microsoft but the fact that there has been so little choice. Competition, in good old capitalist terms, makes for better products. Sun would simply like to shed some light on this and there are many computer buffs who wish them luck.