Gosling questions Sun-Microsoft pact

Summary:The father of Java tells developers that in some ways, the technical agreement with Microsoft is meaning less and less.

The father of Java, James Gosling, has questioned the technical relationship between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, in light of the antitrust demands of the European Union on the world's biggest software maker.

The creator of the Java programming language made his comments during an event Wednesday in Sydney, where he made a rare appearance to speak frankly to local developers in a question-and-answer session.

Questioned about the technical collaboration required under last year's much-publicized agreement--under which Microsoft paid Sun US$1.95 billion to resolve antitrust and patent issues--Gosling told delegates: "We're still trying to work out what that agreement means. In some levels, it's actually meaning less and less."

Gosling, who's chief technology officer of Sun's Developer Products Group and a Sun fellow, added: "Our agreement with them is becoming less and less relevant because of a lot of the fallout of some of the antitrust action in Europe. Europe (has) been forcing Microsoft to open up those interfaces to everyone anyway. So the agreement we have with them looks a lot like the ones that the EU are getting them to do."

Sun's agreement with Microsoft gave the company "the ability to use their proprietary specifications and take information from them to build our own stuff," he said.

He noted, however, that disclosure is not allowed: "They didn't give up the right to disclose that proprietary information of Microsoft. We can get the information from them about...all the deep and dark secrets on how the file systems work, but we can't then turn around and be part of the open-source Samba project, and make Samba actually work."

"If we did," he joked, "we'd have to disclose secrets, and they'd come out and shoot us, or even worse, they'd send their lawyers."

The Java guru commended Microsoft for opening up the specifications for Microsoft Office schemas in Word and Excel, as it allows developers--including Sun--to legitimately build interoperable products instead of employing reverse-engineering. However, Gosling warned delegates of the threat posed by the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. Specifically, he warned of the ability of companies like Microsoft to use DMCA to stop reverse-engineering.

"In the past, what we'd have to do is reverse-engineering, and we had been getting into a pickle, because for open-source projects like Samba and OpenOffice, the only way to get the information was by reverse-engineering," he said. "Pretty much for all the countries in the world, reverse-engineering was a perfectly fine thing to do."

Gosling described the DMCA, which was passed in the United States a few years ago, as "really vile."

Reverse-engineering in the United States is now "legal for stuff, except stuff doing digital rights management," or DRM, he said. "So what has been happening is folks like Microsoft have been putting DRM into everything. DRM has been put into places you wouldn't think would make a whole lot of sense, like the document format being wrapped in DRM stuff...Under the sheets, the major justification is to make reverse-engineering illegal."

"That's actually like in the DVD case," he said, referring to the encryption system employed in the DVD arena. "The encryption stuff is the world's sloppiest encryption protocol; it's really stupid."

Gosling also hinted that Sun and Microsoft were working more closely together in regard to identity management, an area in which the two companies have traditionally supported different technologies. Microsoft, with its Passport technology, is heavily involved. Sun is also active in this area, with the industry-backed Liberty Alliance.

"Typically, what we have been trying to do is adapters that map between the Microsoft way of doing things and the way everybody else does things like e-mail protocols," Gosling said. "Most of the stuff we've been doing is around identity management, bringing the work from the Liberty work to what Microsoft (has) done."

In the hour-and-a-half session, Gosling answered many questions on a range of topics, including Eclipse and other Java IDEs (integrated development environments), DVD technology, security in Microsoft's .Net platform, the future of embedded software and more.

Brendon Chase of Builder AU reported from Sydney.

Topics: IT Employment, Legal

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