Java row: MS blasts Sun's "hypocrisy"

The Java spat heats up as Microsoft fires off a terse response to Sun ads that urged customers to demand Java in Windows XP. Microsoft says the ad campaign is "unparalleled hypocrisy".
Written by Joe Wilcox, Contributor
The long-running battle between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems over the Java programming language escalated Thursday, as Microsoft issued a terse response to a Sun ad campaign that ran last week.

Microsoft released a statement to the press late Thursday explaining the reasons for its removal of support for Java in its upcoming Windows XP operating system. Sun took out full-page ads in three newspapers last week asking consumers to "demand that Microsoft include the Java platform in their XP operating system".

In April, Microsoft removed its 4-year-old version of Sun's Java Virtual Machine (JVM) from testing versions of the Internet Explorer 6 browser, which is integrated into Windows XP. The JVM will be an optional 5MB download the first time a user accesses a Web page requiring Java support.

In the statement, which will be posted to Microsoft's Web site later Thursday, the company said: "Sun Microsystems has turned its marketing machine into high gear about Windows XP, claiming that Microsoft has hurt Sun, Java and customers by not including the Microsoft virtual machine in Windows XP. It's time to set the facts straight."

Microsoft described Sun's campaign against Microsoft as "unparalleled hypocrisy", arguing the company "has taken every step possible to prevent Microsoft from shipping its award-winning Java virtual machine. They spent several years suing to stop Microsoft from shipping a high-performance Java virtual machine that took advantage of Windows."

Sun filed a lawsuit in 1997 alleging Microsoft violated its contract for licensing Java.

Legal arguments
Part of Java's appeal is its ability to run programs identically on many different computer systems--such as those using Apple's Mac OS or Microsoft's Windows--without having to rewrite the programs for each OS. But to run the programs--typically in a browser--the PC must have a copy of the JVM.

Sun argued in the lawsuit that changes Microsoft made to the version of the JVM it used with Windows violated its Java licensing agreement. In its statement on Thursday, Microsoft once again argued that those changes benefit Windows users.

"The Microsoft virtual machine has a long history of outperforming other virtual machines and offers the best real world compatibility of any virtual machine," the company asserted. "It is also the only virtual machine that offers an integrated applet browsing experience with Internet Explorer."

The two companies settled the dispute in January, with Sun agreeing to let Microsoft continue using a 4-year-old JVM for seven years but prohibiting the software giant from using new versions of the software.

"Rather than pursue a new licensing arrangement, Sun settled its lawsuit with Microsoft by offering a phase-out of Microsoft's Java implementation," Microsoft charged in its statement. "Sun was quick to pronounce the settlement a great victory."

Citing a News.com story on the settlement, Microsoft quoted Sun CEO Scott McNealy: "This is a victory for our licensees and consumers. The community wants one Java technology: one brand, one process and one great platform. We've accomplished that, and this agreement further protects the authenticity and value of Sun's Java technology."

Microsoft further charged that "Sun got what they said they wanted: The termination of the existing Java license and an agreement that Microsoft would phase out its Java virtual machine."

Caught unawares
But in discussing the ads last week, Sun spokesman David Harrah said Microsoft's decision to pull the JVM from Internet Explorer 6--and thus Windows XP--shocked the company. "They asked us for the seven-year license to continue using (the JVM)," he emphasized. "We didn't expect this."

In regard to the ads, Harrah said: "This is not a campaign. This is a single statement we wanted to get out."

Microsoft made the decision to pull the JVM partly for fear Sun might take legal action against the company before Windows XP's launch.

"Sun has proven they would rather compete through litigation," said Jim Cullinan, Windows XP lead product manager. "What if come Oct 1, Sun decided to seek an injunction stopping Windows XP because they said we didn't keep the terms of the settlement?"

By choosing to offer the JVM as a separate download, the company could provide the software to people who wanted it while not jeopardizing Windows XP's Oct 25 launch date, Cullinan added.

Market researcher Gartner estimates that only about 5 percent of Web sites use Java.

While the Internet Explorer and Windows combo is one of the biggest channels for distributing Java, it also is one of the programming language's biggest hindrances. Because Microsoft's JVM is based on Sun's outdated version 1.1.4, the majority of users may not have full access to the technology's capabilities. The current JVM, version 1.3.1, is faster and more stable than the one distributed by Microsoft.

"This could be an opportunity for Sun--if they choose to use it--to get a newer version of the virtual machine into the hands of users," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver.

In fact, Harrah said last week that Sun was independently negotiating to get the newer version of the JVM on Windows XP PCs when they ship in September. The company also is developing a JVM capable of running in Internet Explorer 6. While Windows XP can run JVM 1.3.1, the Web browser cannot.

Still, Microsoft has some incentive for not supporting Sun's JVM. The company has also developed a language, called C#, that is in many ways a functional equivalent of Java. The language will play a key role in the company's .Net and HailStorm Web services initiatives. Sun is developing a Web services initiative of its own.

"Sun wraps itself in a mantle of openness and choice," Microsoft said in its statement. "The idea that Java is open is laughable, particularly after Sun submitted Java to a standards body and then broke its promise not just once but twice...Moreover, Sun's idea of choice is you can have any language you want, as long as it is Java."

Editorial standards