Sun Vs. Microsoft, Round 2

McNealy's $1B suit alleges Microsoft is hindering Java deployment; observers split on suit's merits.

A year after Microsoft Corp. agreed to pay Sun Microsystems Inc. $20 million to settle a lawsuit over Microsofts licensing of Java, Sun is taking another shot at the Redmond, Wash., software maker.

In a suit filed this month, Sun is seeking more than $1 billion and asking that Microsoft distribute the Java Runtime Environment in Windows XP and Internet Explorer and stop distributing Microsofts JVM (Java Virtual Machine).

The Palo Alto, Calif., company said Microsoft is hindering the deployment of Java, but Microsoft officials said Sun has filed a nuisance suit, brought on by Suns mismanagement of its technology.

In the earlier settlement, Microsoft agreed to discontinue distribution of its incompatible Windows-only JVM and to carry an older version.

Developers and analysts are equally split over the merits of the suit. "By Microsoft saying that they are shipping Java with Windows according to the agreement is grossly misleading," said Frank Greco, a developer at CrossRoads Technologies Inc., a New York Java solutions provider. "Microsoft ships a version of Java that is so painfully old, slow and buggy that it makes Java and Sun look bad. Microsoft just doesnt play fair. And by not playing fair, the consumer loses out."

However, Dennis Gaughan, an analyst with AMR Research Inc., said he doesnt think Sun will accomplish much. "The case is too broad to really have anything stick," said Gaughan, in Boston. "Sun is going to spend millions in fighting this case with a very uncertain outcome. Is this really maximizing Suns shareholder value, or is it just more of Scott McNealys obsession with Microsoft?"

"Sun is losing momentum," said Tim Ewald, a developer with DevelopMentor Inc., a Los Angeles-based software development, training and consulting company. "I think the latest lawsuit was filed because Sun doesnt know what else to do. Their technology story has begun to lose its luster."

Microsoft goes on trial this week in a case brought by the nine states that refused to sign a settlement with the Department of Justice regarding the governments antitrust claims.

Suns is the latest in a series of antitrust-related lawsuits filed this year against Microsoft. AOL Time Warner Inc. and the now-defunct Be Inc. each filed a suit this year, and observers expect more to come. But Microsoft said the suits—including Suns—are simply companies blaming it for their self-created problems.

"There is no real legal or factual basis for [Suns] lawsuit," said Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman. "Millions of Microsoft users access Java each and every day."