Sun, Microsoft Renew Java Power Struggle

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2002-12-09
 
 
 

In the five years that Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have been fighting over Java, most developers have let their code do the talking. The fate of Java on the desktop is again in the hands of a judge, and developers will likely continue to use Microsofts .Net or Suns Java regardless of the decision.

"It will not affect us one bit," said Stephen Forte, chief technology officer at Corzen Inc., an online market research company in New York. "No developer is going to let a judge decide what technology to use. For starters, the judge has no idea what he is talking about. .Net predominantly is a server technology.

"As a developer, if we need the current version of the JVM [Java virtual machine], we just download it. Who cares if it comes bundled or not?" Forte said.

The companies battled here last week before District Judge J. Frederick Motz over Suns call for a preliminary injunction that would force Microsoft to ship the Sun JVM with Windows. Sun wants the judge to force Microsoft to distribute Suns JVM with each new copy of Windows and Internet Explorer.

Sun, of Palo Alto, Calif., filed a private antitrust suit against Microsoft in March claiming the Redmond, Wash., software company has used its desktop operating system monopoly to slow and sidetrack Javas momentum as an alternative platform for developers.

Sun charges that Microsoft intentionally sought to fragment the market for Java by seeding it with incompatible software. This suit is the second Java-related suit filed by Sun. The first, filed in October 1997, was a contract dispute over Microsofts distribution of Java-compatible technology, which the parties settled in January 2001.

However, with this latest suit, slated for trial next year, both sides seem to be digging in. Microsoft is fueled by recent rulings in the landmark government case against it, in which U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly did not accept recommendations that Microsoft should be forced to distribute Suns technology.

Motz must consider whether to force Microsoft to carry Java on Windows, or he could rule that with Javas dominance on servers and devices, the market will remain in segments that both companies can enjoy.

Motz heard closing arguments late last week. Still, some viewed Motz as sympathetic to the Sun case, based on questions he put to attorneys and witnesses.

For example, the judge referred to Suns injunction proposal as an "attractive" remedy. Motz also mused aloud that compelling Microsoft to carry Java would be a "wonderfully elegant and simple, although dramatic," remedy that would be nicer than calling in a number of economists to try to figure out "what might have been in the make-believe world of what would have happened."

Motz also expressed "surprise" at the "vehemence" with which Kollar-Kotelly had struck down a similar request to include Java with Windows. Kollar-Kotelly rejected that remedy, which was proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice and nine state attorneys general, as part of her November ruling on remedies in the federal antitrust case against Microsoft.

"I have no doubt that in some sense the development of the Microsoft JVM was pro-competitive, but in another sense, it can certainly be anti-competitive if its intent in fact was to kneecap [Suns Java]," said Motz, who will announce his ruling within 10 days.

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