Developers Reaction to Sun Suit Is Mixed

Sun is getting a mixed reaction from developers about the company's lawsuit filed against Microsoft. Many developers say it is too late for Sun to see any remedy to its claims.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is getting a mixed reaction from developers about the companys lawsuit filed last week against Microsoft Corp. Many developers say it is too late for Sun to see any remedy to its claims.

"I think its absolutely ridiculous," said Chris Sells, CEO of Sells Brothers Inc., a Beaverton, Ore., Web services company. "Sun made sure Microsoft couldnt actually do anything with Java except ship something that Sun defined completely, and then when Microsoft decided that they didnt want to do that, Sun has the nerve to sue them?"

Sun is suing Microsoft for antitrust violations that Sun said created illegal barriers to the distribution of Java and to interoperability between Microsoft software and competing products. Sun, of Palo Alto, Calif., is seeking to have Microsoft distribute Suns Java plug-in in Windows XP and Internet Explorer. Sun also wants Microsoft to stop shipping Microsofts Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and is seeking at least $1 billion in damages.

"I cant see how Sun justifies any of this without damaging themselves," said Clemens Vasters, chief technology officer at newtelligence AG, a Korschenbroich, Germany, software development and consulting company. "Sun bundles Star Office and the iPlanet application server with Solaris on SPARC. Sun bundles the Java runtime environment with Solaris on SPARC. How is that different from Microsoft bundling its enterprise services and the .Net framework with Windows?"

Vasters said Sun last year settled with Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., by granting a time-limited seven-year license to Microsoft, "which allows Microsoft to apply bug fixes to their JVM but not make any improvements and ship that with their OSes and IE. Microsoft has obviously decided that shipping and maintaining an outdated JVM by default would not deliver much value, so theyve made the move to let the customers do what they do with almost every other third-party product: Install it from the vendors site. The claim that Windows XP is incompatible with Java is simply wrong; what Microsoft dropped with IE6 was the Netscape plug-in interface, which is by no means a standard but Netscape proprietary. IEs plug-in technology has been ActiveX since version 3. Sun just hasnt adopted this ever since.

"This isnt about hurting Sun, this is about cleaning up old mess from a product. I have successfully used Suns JVM as well as several J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] server products on XP."

Vasters also said Sun should not win any damages from its lawsuit.

"It would hurt my trust in the U.S. legal system if they would," he said. "If there is a battle about software supremacy with Microsoft, its with IBM, BEA [Systems Inc.], or even SAP [AG]. Suns motives are different. Here we have an entirely hardware driven business who want to keep the Java platform viable in order to be able to sell boxes."

Bruce Hopkins, a senior Java consultant for Great Lakes Technologies Group, a Web services company in Southfield, Mich., said: "I applaud Sun for filing these charges against Microsoft and its monopolistic practices. Suns lawsuit is trying to introduce competition in the industry, and it is also trying to prevent Microsoft from gaining a monopoly in other markets—such as servers, middleware, and web services—with the .Net platform."

Hopkins also said that "because of Microsofts practices in the browser market in the late 90s, client side Java development, like applets running in a Web browser, has been significantly reduced. Microsofts version of Java was intentionally incompatible with Suns version of Java so that developers either used Microsofts Java or no Java at all. Today, developers use technologies like Macromedia Flash in order to make interactive Web sites, because of the fact that over 98 percent of the browsers on the Internet have the Flash plug-in."

Vincent Maciejewski, chief architect at Spidertop Inc., a Montreal-based Java solutions vendor, said that "what is important to many Java developers is whether or not this lawsuit will force Microsoft to ship the JRE with Windows XP. We at Spidertop are not counting on it. Instead, as a software vendor, we are looking at ways of improving the deployment process for Java applications. We have made significant progress in this area but there is still a lot more that can be done. I think that once the JRE installation process becomes relatively painless the network will truly become the computer."

Yet, newtelligences Vasters said he doesnt see Sun coming out on top.

"I cannot see how Sun could win this with any rationality applied," Vasters said. "If there wasnt a .Net framework, the enterprise technology space might eventually really be all Java, because the managed-code environments with the properties as Java and the .Net framework expose them are without viable alternatives today. Java is a technology that is indeed entirely owned by Sun Microsystems and Sun has repeatedly refused to turn Java over to a standards body. I can only see this as a move by Sun to keep a lock on an intellectual property monopoly."

Jonathan Zuck, a developer and president of the Washington-based Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), said of Sun: "They sued Microsoft to get them to stop using Java. Now they are suing because theyve stopped using it. Anyone in the technical community knows that Javas biggest problem is Suns proprietary grip on it This lawsuit is such a stretch it is beyond belief."

ACT has been supporting Microsofts cause in its federal antitrust case.

Stuart Halloway, CTO of DevelopMentor Inc., a Los Angeles-based software development training and consulting company, said, "Suns latest lawsuit is bad news for Java developers. For years, Sun has been in the drivers seat with Java. Now, Microsoft releases .Net, finally mounting a serious, across-the-board challenge to Java for enterprise developers. Rather than meet this challenge head-on with improvements to the Java platform (particularly in support for XML and web services), Sun appears mired in a legal issue left over from yesterday."