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First Direct online banking locks out WinXP with Sun Java

Wrong kind of Java standard, apparently...

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Microsoft's efforts to "kill cross-platform Java" by growing "the polluted Java market" seem to be bearing fruit in at least one place. The Internet banking arm of UK bank First Direct supports the Microsoft Virtual Machine (nee JVM) on Windows XP machines, but not Sun's Java plug-in for XP, which is of course 'proper' Java, as opposed to the one we polluted earlier. This has the bizarre effect of locking out Microsoft browsers, but strange things can happen in standards wars.

Sun's production of the plug-in was a consequence of Microsoft starting to ship 'IE Unplugged' from version 6.0. This meant that people using XP out of the box or IE 6.0 on another Microsoft platform would have the MVM, but not Java as such. This obviously has long term implications for Java if Microsoft succeeds in getting its rival established, but as Java is cross-platform, and already a long way ahead, it's more than a little weird to find a site not supporting it today.

That however is what First Direct customer Ashley Dando found when he installed the Sun Java plug-in on his XP machine. "It's way faster [than the MS version] and everything else I use that's Java works beautifully," he told The Register. "I cannot believe I've been putting up with dog-slow Java execution all this time. Plus Microsoft's JVM blue-screened my XP box at least once a day."

The First Direct site now however tells him his Java plug-in isn't supported. So if he continues to use official Java he now no longer has access to his accounts via the company's PC Banking service. Presumably this will be the case for any customer using IE6 who has rashly popped over to Sun to get themselves standardised.

First Direct's response to Ashley's queries suggests that this may be more than just a random piece of blockheadery. It confirms that: "At present, PC Banking will run with Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine only. We are aware of the lack of the Java plug-in for Windows XP, and at present our tests are continuing on this platform. We are assessing the recent changes to Java. However, I am not sure whether we will be supporting any other Java standard going forward."

Heroic stuff, isn't it? The Java supplied by the actual custodian of the Java standard has been busted down to the status of "any other Java standard", while the Microsoft one that's only standard in Microsoftland is promoted ahead of it. Exquisitely, it appears that First Direct is doing this despite it not being a Microsoft shop. A quick visit to the good people at Netcraft reveals that firstdirect.com runs Netscape 4.1 on HP-UX servers. And judging from The Register's scamper around it (Opera 5.11, Sun Java plug-in), quite snappy it is too. Not being customers, we weren't in a position to tell whether it would tell us to go away or not. ®

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