A Year Ago: Microsoft and Sun in Java tussle

First published Tue, 28 Oct 1997
Written by Maria Seminerio, Contributor

Microsoft had no obligation under its licence agreement with Sun to provide Java to its customers at all, and Microsoft reserved the right to develop its own similar or derivative technology, the company claims in its countersuit against Sun.

The 35-page lawsuit, the latest volley in an increasingly bitter dispute between the two software giants over the future of Java, hammers home Microsoft's long-standing contention that Sun has overstated the capabilities of the upstart technology.

What's more, the lawsuit - coming in the midst of a renewed antitrust attack on Microsoft by the US government - alleges Sun was guilty of the same deceptive marketing tactics that Sun accuses Microsoft of in its lawsuit over the Java licensing deal, filed October 7.

"Java just doesn't deliver on the write-once, run-anywhere promise," Tod Neilsen, general manager of developer relations for Microsoft, said in an interview. In continually promoting the technology this way, and in "attacking" Microsoft products, Sun unfairly attempted to undercut Microsoft's competitive advantage, he said.

Sun officials refused to comment on Microsoft's allegations, saying they stand by the points they made in their October 7 lawsuit.

"We fully expected Microsoft to file a countersuit. This is a garden-variety legal tactic," said Sun spokeswoman Ann Little. "We believe our suit has merit, and nothing has changed."

The countersuit will prove that it was Sun, not Microsoft, that violated the terms of the March 1996 contract, Neilsen said.

"The contract says that Sun was to provide publicly available testing suites, but this never happened," he said. "It also specifies that each significant Java developer's upgrade should be backwards-compatible, but JDK (Java Developer Kit) 1.1 was not."

Microsoft also "categorically denies" that it deceived customers in its claims about the way Java is deployed in the Internet Explorer 4.0 Web browser, as claimed in the Sun suit, Neilsen added.

The company "stands by the promise we made in 1996 to deliver the best Java tools available and to allow developers to take the fullest possible advantage of Windows," he said.

The lawsuit maintains that in the Java agreement, "Other than with respect to Internet Explorer 3.0, Microsoft, not Sun, would determine whether to include the technology in Microsoft products." It also states that in the agreement, Microsoft had "no obligation to market, sell, license or otherwise distribute the technology, or derivative works thereof, either alone or in any product."

Furthermore, the suit claims the agreement did not restrict Microsoft from making or distributing technology that is similar to Sun's Java technology or that "performs the same or similar functions as the technology in addition to, or in lieu of, the technology."

While analysts familiar with the legal battle said that today's suit seems to do a good job of justifying Microsoft's earlier actions, some said Sun may have gained a competitive advantage by convincing developers that Microsoft is guilty of splintering Java.

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