The judge overseeing the US government's monumental antitrust suit against Microsoft yesterday asked a question of his own, suggesting the world's largest software company has made headway in convincing him that its battle against Sun's Java technology is being won fair and square.
Federal and state officials claim Microsoft wrote its version of Java in order to confuse the market. Sun touts Java as a "write-once, run-anywhere" technology that lets programs written for it run on any operating system, not just one.
Such independence from a single system, officials argue, could eventually break Microsoft's monopoly over PC operating systems. But Microsoft has argued that its version of Java simply works better because it concentrates on one thing and does it well.
On Thursday, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson followed up on that assertion."A goodly part of the cross examination [by Microsoft] had to do with evidence that what Microsoft did was grasp the significance of the work you were doing and run with it -- and produce a better version of it," he told Java inventor James Gosling at the end of testimony, in which the Sun executive had upheld the government's version of events. "You simply couldn't catch up?"
Gosling answered without hesitation: There were things that Microsoft did very well indeed. But that didn't mean their intent wasn't predatory, too. "Well, they represent it as better, but their version of 'better' is tied to the Windows platform and prevents interoperability with others," he said.
Until now, Microsoft had seemingly made little progress with Jackson. So company attorneys were clearly delighted after Thursday's proceedings to make an infrequent appearance before the cameras. "Competition between Sun and Microsoft is strong and vigorous," Microsoft lead attorney John Warden said. "Microsoft competed vigorously with Sun and got ahead. Sun is understandably unhappy about that."
But Gosling said plenty more to buttress his own argument later in the session. Under examination by lead government attorney David Boies, Gosling again conceded that Microsoft had produced a good "virtual machine" that would run Java applications on any Windows PC. But making Java run "best" on Windows in Microsoft's world meant making it impossible to run programs written especially for its Java on any other computer, he said.
What's more, he added, since Windows had tied its own version of Java to its own browser and that, in turn, to its operating system, all Windows 98 users now use Microsoft's Java. At that rate, he seemed to say, it won't be long before the Windows monopoly destroys the cross-platform promise of Java.
And could they have made Java run best on Windows, without destroying its cross-platform nature? Boies asked. Absolutely, the technology's inventor claimed. But the hundreds of companies that jointly develop Java technology with Sun were never consulted, he said. "They did that with absolutely no consultation -- they just said boom, here it is."
Earlier in the day, Microsoft attorneys had worked to show it was they, not others, who had been excluded from consultations. Company attorney Tom Burt produced internal e-mails and press reports to suggest that Sun unfairly discriminated against Microsoft.
In one September 1996 exchange, Microsoft software engineer Dean McCrory wrote to Sun executive Scott Rautmann and proposed that they discuss Microsoft's latest Java modifications. Those extensions of the technology, he said, relied on many operations available only on Windows, but he wanted to make sure the work he was doing would not overlap with what Sun was doing.
Another Sun executive, Thomas Ball, forwarded the message to yet other Sun employees, but McCrory evidently never heard back from Sun. "Isn't it true that no one responded to Mr. McCrory, and said Mr. McCrory, you can't do language extensions without going through the [Java standards] process?" Burt asked Gosling.
Gosling conceded that McCrory might not have got a reply. But that didn't change anything. "We generally assumed that people were honourable," he said. "I don't think we had any reason to presume this would lead to something that would force us to send a 'nasty-gram' through a lawyer."
Burt suggested Microsoft was extending a hand of co-operation when McCrory wrote his e-mail. "When Microsoft was often holding out their hand, there was a knife in it," Gosling replied. "They expected us to grab the blade."
Another e-mail from Sun Chief Technical Officer Eric Schmidt to Gosling and other top management detailed a meeting he'd had with Microsoft's senior management regarding Java. In it, Schmidt wrote that Microsoft wanted to build "an outstanding Java virtual machine," to "sell excellent Java developer tools," and "extend the Java [virtual machine] if necessary, so that the Java VM can be the only virtual machine in Windows."
The Java virtual machine is the software that actually runs Java programs on computer users' PCs. Even so, Schmidt wrote, Microsoft didn't "feel part of our process for deciding things and wonder how interested we are in collaborating with them." Didn't this show Microsoft was being kept out of the loop, Burt asked?
Gosling said no. Instead, he said, Microsoft had decided to go it alone with changes to Java that made its version incompatible with others. "This technology, while it solves the problem for [Java] on Microsoft platforms, it doesn't solve the problem for any of our other licensees. We really wanted to cooperate with Microsoft," he said. But that wasn't possible, he added, as long as they ignored "our No. 1 goal of interoperability and portability."