RealTime IT News

Sun Sues Microsoft Over Java

Sun Microsystems Friday filed a private antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft because of the company's "monopoly position" and because Windows XP does not support Java.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant, which filed the paperwork at the United States District Court in San Jose, California, is asking for more than $1 billion in damages and requires that Microsoft distribute Sun's current binary implementation of the Java plug-in as part of Windows XP and Internet Explorer.

While Microsoft officials said they haven't yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit, they were quick to defend themselves.

"It's really time to move past these issues, many of which are related to a lawsuit the parties settled last year," said Microsoft Spokesman Jim Dessler.

Roots of the Dispute
The lawsuit to which Dessler referred was settled by Microsoft in January 2001 to the tune of $20 million. Sun initiated that lawsuit in 1997. It stemmed from an agreement the two companies made in 1996, when Microsoft obtained a license from Sun to use the Java technology, with the stipulation that Microsoft would deliver only compatible implementations of the technology.

Following the agreement, Microsoft used the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1.4, a version that had long been superceded, thus ensuring Windows-only compatibility. Sun argued that by making its Java implementation Windows-only, Microsoft violated the terms of the license.

As part of the settlement, Sun gave Microsoft the right to continue using the outdated JDK for seven years, though Microsoft made no commitment to do so.

As a result, in July 2001, Microsoft decided not to include a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) in Windows XP.

"It comes down to the settlement agreement," Yankee Group Analyst Neal Goldman said at the time. "On the one hand, you could say, 'gee, Microsoft is attempting to keep people from using Java on Windows and this is sort of an exclusionary tactic.' I think that's probably not true. Because of the settlement agreement with Sun, they can't ship current or new versions of Java. If my choices were to ship nothing or an old version, I would ship nothing."

That was the tack Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla took when explaining Microsoft's decision in July.

Pilla said at the time that making the Microsoft JVM downloadable rather than shipping it with Windows XP helped the company abide by the terms of its settlement with Sun.

"We're still supporting our JVM," Pilla said. "We're just not going to include the JVM in XP...Everyone that wants Java support in Windows XP will get it."

Pilla also noted, "PC manufacturers are free to install the Microsoft JVM before they ship." He added that IT managers will also be able to make the decision to install the JVM on computers, and that anyone who upgrades to XP from a previous Windows operating system will retain their Microsoft JVM.

Losing Focus
Now, as Sun gears up to press its case in court, Microsoft's Dessler said the real losers in this type of case are software developers and consumers.

"The industry is at its best when we focus on innovation in developing great products," he said.

"Billions of consumers using Windows easily access and use Java technology every day. Java technology is widely used. Any lack of consumer acceptance of Java is due to Sun's own failures and not actions by Microsoft," Dessler explained.

The suit is separate but builds on the recent antitrust proceedings brought by the United States, 19 individual states and the District of Columbia.

"This private antitrust lawsuit is intended to restore competition in the marketplace by removing unlawful barriers to the distribution of the Java platform and to interoperability between Microsoft software and competitive technologies. The achievement of these goals will allow for greater innovation and increased customer choice," Sun Senior Vice President and General Counsel Michael Morris released in a statement.

In its complaint, Sun says Microsoft has engaged in "extensive anticompetitive conduct," including fragmenting the Java platform, flooding the market with incompatible Java Runtime Environments, forcing other companies to distribute or use products that are incompatible with Java.

Sun's preliminary injunctions is also asking that Microsoft stop distribution of its Java Virtual Machine through separate downloads and for Microsoft to disclose and license proprietary interfaces, protocols, and formats and to unbundle tied products, such as Internet Explorer, IIS web server, and the .Net framework.

AOL filed a similar injunction against Microsoft's Windows XP earlier this year based on Microsoft's success in the browser wars over Netscape.

Morris says that while AOL's argument was general, Sun's is very specific.

"While this suit is based on the past actions of Microsoft, Sun also believes that Microsoft's continuing practices in the marketplace represent a threat to lawful competition and the millions of developers who depend on the existence of an open software industry," Morris said. "This behavior manifests Microsoft's goal to use its monopoly position to turn the Internet into its proprietary platform. What is at stake here is the future of an open software industry and an open Internet."