Java creator questions Sun/Microsoft pact

James Gosling, fellow at Sun and father of Java, has called the relevance of the pact between Sun and Microsoft into doubt
Written by Brendon Chase, Contributor

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

At an event in Sydney yesterday the creator of the Java programming language, and fellow at Sun 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-publicised agreement whereby Microsoft paid Sun $1.95bn 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.

"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 have 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," Gosling said.

"What the agreement between Sun and Microsoft got us was the ability to use their proprietary specifications and take information from them to build our own stuff. They didn't give up the right to disclose that proprietary information of Microsoft. We can get the information from them about how 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," Gosling said.

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

The Java guru commended Microsoft on opening up the specifications for Microsoft Office schemas in Word and Excel as it allowed developers -- including Sun -- to legitimately build interoperable products instead of employing reverse engineering. However, Gosling warned delegates of the threat posed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States, specifically the ability of companies like Microsoft to use it 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. "For pretty much for all the countries in the world reverse engineering was a perfectly fine thing to do".

"In the United States a really vile law got passed a few years ago called the DMCA. It is legal for stuff except stuff doing Digital Rights Management (DRM). 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," Gosling said.

"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 said before using further adjectives traditionally reserved for the act of procreation to describe DVD encryption.

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 is heavily involved with their Passport technology and Sun with the industry backed Liberty Alliance.

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

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

Brendon Chase reported from Sydney for Builder AU. For more Builder AU stories, click here.

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