Sun and Microsoft: What happens next?

While it is too early to determine the immediate impact of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s suit today against Microsoft Corp., the next steps at least are clear.
Written by Michael Moeller, Contributor

Sun will first serve the complaint against Microsoft, which has 20 days to respond to the suit in court. It will then seek to get a hearing date for a preliminary injunction for Microsoft's use of the Java compatibility log, according to Michael Morris, vice president and general counsel for Sun, adding that it could take three to six months to get a court hearing. Sun also is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

Sun filed the suit after concluding that Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 4.0 browser and the beta of its Software Development Kit for Java failed Sun's compatibility tests.

According to Sun's tests, Microsoft has added Windows-specific functions (APIs) to the core JDK class libraries instead of merely extending those libraries. Additionally, Microsoft failed to support two key APIs in the JDK 1.1 - RMI (Remote Method Invocation) and JNI (Java Native Interface).

The failing grades mean applications developed with Microsoft's Java technology may not work on non-Windows platforms, and applications written with Sun Java may not run on IE 4.0 and the Windows platform, according to Sun officials.

"At heart here is what Java is to different people," said Eric Lehrfeld, director of business development at Random Walk Computing, a systems integrator in New York. "Is it a better language, or is it a panacea for network computing? For Microsoft, it is a better language. Microsoft wants to leverage Java for purposes that would benefit Microsoft, which means they need to use Java in a non-pure way. The problem is, they don't own Java.

"So Sun is fully in its rights to make this demand," Lehrfeld continued. "But it's not good for the world in general. It's going to confuse things further and slow thing down even more. This is not going to help educate the market. Hopefully it will be resolved quickly."

Executives said the suit was the last straw in a long battle with Microsoft over Java.

"In some cases we had a handshake, a verbal agreement, only to find that days or weeks later that was being backtracked on," said Alan Baratz, CEO of Sun's JavaSoft development division in Mountain View, Calif.

"This action was an attempt to get Microsoft to conform to its contractual commitment," he said. "We don't embark on a lawsuit lightly, and we have spent the past six months working to find all possible alternatives. . . .We fully expect Microsoft to honor the agreement that they signed over a year ago. We fully expect them to live up to their contractual obligations."

Baratz said Microsoft can't back out of the contract. Licensees are required to ship and support all Java technologies for the duration of the five-year contract.

Sun is withholding current and future Java technologies from Microsoft, which means the company won't have access to the latest Java Virtual Machine technology, HotSpot, which shipped in Alpha this week.

Microsoft officials were steadfast in defending their implementation of Java.

"This is 100 percent pure hypocrisy," said Todd Neilsen, general manager of Windows platform marketing at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. "We are the most compatible browser on the market."

Neilsen said he was unaware of Microsoft-modified JDK class libraries with specific calls for Windows. Once Microsoft has a chance to look at the specifics of the suit it could comment on the allegations, he said.

"We did not try to dupe someone into using incompatible class libraries," Neilsen added.

According to Neilsen, Microsoft already provided RMI on its Web site, an option that Sun has given Microsoft with regards to that specific API. Neilsen said it was posted September 30.

Neilsen added that Microsoft is in no way obligated to ship or support JNI. But he said it is surprising that Sun is making a big deal about an API that flies in the face of the 100% Pure Java campaign since JNI induced developers to create platform specific calls into their applications.

Reaction from the industry points the finger at Microsoft, although some users said they will wait until the smoke clears.

"Microsoft has been saying for months that they don't intend to be compatible. I think [a lawsuit] is certainly due at this point," said Marc Andreessen, vice president for technology at Netscape Communications Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. "What this clarifies is that the licensees have all signed a contract. From a customer standpoint this ensures compatibility. It's a level of assurance over time that all the vendors will be compatible."

"This is a great day," said Mark Jarvis, vice president of server marketing at Oracle Corp. in Redwood Shores, Calif. "I think that Microsoft is scared to death of Java and will do whatever it can to control the technology. It is doing that by manipulating developers."

IBM refused to comment on the suit but issued a statement today that said, "It appears Sun and Microsoft are now headed to court to sort out their differences about their Java licensing agreement. IBM is not a party to this suit, but we are a strong supporter of a consistent Java platform implementation for the benefits it provides to customers, developers and computer systems suppliers."

One ISV who has been using both Microsoft's SDK for Java and JavaSoft's JDK said the suit has little immediate impact on his plans.

"So far, IE and Microsoft have been pretty good about following the JDK 1.1 specification," said Scott Wingo, president of Stingray Software Inc., a Java Bean developer. "If the two sides part ways, then we will have to watch and see what happens."

Scot Miliner, a director at BulletProof Corp., a Java developer based in Los Gatos, Calif., said it is disappointing that the relationship between Microsoft and Sun had to come down to a lawsuit. But Miliner added that just because Microsoft is introducing platform-specific features to Java doesn't mean developers have to use them.

"Developers are not stupid and know what code is in their applications and know what choices they are going to make when they use Windows calls inside of their applications," said Miliner.

Sun's suit, filed in United States District Court in San Jose, Calif., charges Microsoft with trademark infringement, false advertising, breach of contract, unfair competition, interference with prospective economic advantage and inducing breach of contract.

Editorial standards