Billion-Dollar Suit Isnt Good for Anyone

Sun's billion-dollar lawsuit against Microsoft is a hugely risky move.

Suns billion-dollar lawsuit against Microsoft is a hugely risky move. If the company loses, it will still be a company respected for its technology but reviled for its management. Winning, however, could take a decade, and by then the industry will certainly look quite a bit different.

On the surface, we all should be extremely wary of billion-dollar lawsuits. The computer industry is in danger of freezing itself in time with its litigious behavior. It seems that the legal teams at some companies are just another profit center and that the tech companies are taking advantage of a court system that cant possibly keep up with technological developments.

Sun seems to be caught in a bind. On one hand, it has claimed that Java has been the fastest-growing development platform in history. On the other hand, Suns lawsuit is based at least in part on Microsoft preventing such growth.

Suns suit alleges that on the desktop, Microsofts behavior is leading to a fractionalized Java and that Microsoft has limited Suns distribution channels for delivering the Java run-time environment. In press releases, Sun uses verbiage accusing Microsoft of "flooding the market" with incompatible run-times and "forcing other companies to distribute" incompatible Java versions.

Microsoft, fearing Java in the mid-1990s, played hardball. The company moved to capitalize on Java and was able to actually produce a better Java run-time than Sun. The problem was that Microsoft wanted to make Java an extension of Windows and give it all kinds of Windows functionality it didnt have. This "enhancement" of Java destroyed its portability, a fact that led to Microsoft settling the previous Sun lawsuit.

After more disputes with Sun, Microsoft simply froze its virtual machine support at an old version, which led to more disputes and Microsofts eventual yanking of Java out of Windows XP.

Sun has a pretty good case, as defined in its motion ( lawsuit/motion.pdf). However, with the billion-dollar suit comes a provision that Microsoft must ship specifically the Sun virtual machine, and thats simply getting into dangerous territory.

Should Microsoft be forced to include Suns virtual machine? Write to me at [email protected]