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US Report: Sun insiders questioned Java license

Although Sun insiders questioned the wording of a contract to license Java to Microsoft, a company executive ordered them to stop worrying, court documents reveal.
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

Microsoft attorney Charles Quackenbush made the statements during a recent hearing on the case in federal court in California. Parts of the transcript were unsealed Tuesday.

Quackenbush quoted e-mail from Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software division, telling some people, "You all ought to stop reading the contract." Sun spokeswoman Lisa Poulson said the e-mail was the result of armchair lawyering by people not involved in the case. "The only opinions on the contract that matter are the people who negotiated the contract," Poulson said.

The interpretation of the contract is central to the case. Sun sued Microsoft last October, accusing it of illegally tampering with Java. Sun is arguing that the contract prohibited Microsoft from making a Windows-only version of Java. But Microsoft said it did not violate the contract and had rights to create derivative works of the technology.

During his arguments, Quackenbush argued that "when Sun's executives were trying to figure out what the contract meant, they read it the same way Microsoft does." He also said Sun enlisted a so-called gang of four -- including Netscape, Oracle, and IBM -- to use Java to cut off Microsoft's dominance of the operating system.

On a lighter note, Quackenbush also said a Sun executive wrote the word Wintel (referring to the Microsoft-Intel duoploy), then drew a circle around it and a line through it -- indicating Sun's strategy for Java. Apparently, one of the legal strategists deemed the Wintel doodle a trade or strategy secret, and therefore redacted, or edited, it out from earlier versions of the document. But it seems Sun and Microsoft were both trying to kill each other. Unsealed parts of Sun attorney Lloyd "Rusty" Day's testimony show that Microsoft wrote that it wanted "to kill cross-platform Java and grow the polluted Java market" by encouraging developers to abandon its cross-platform promises.

Day accused Microsoft of doing that by lowering the prices of its Java development tools far below those of other products in order to lure developers to a Windows-only version of the product. "They want to turn this product into institutions around the country to get as many young developers using this tool as possible," he argued.

Day also cited internal documents saying that one executive on Microsoft's development team sought to make Java Microsoft's "destiny." Day also cited documents from a Microsoft "Think Week" in October 1996 where Gates apparently questioned "what our OS, Windows, will offer to Java client applications code that will make them unique enough to preserve our market position."

Microsoft's goal, Day said, was to kill off the cross-platform version of the language that threatens Windows. "The person who is scared to death of Java is Bill Gates," he claimed. Quackenbush downplayed the e-mails -- as Microsoft has repeatedly done in many of its other legal tangles -- comparing it with casual conversation in the hall.

Federal Judge Ronald M. Whyte already ruled in Sun's favour earlier this year, issuing a preliminary injunction requiring Microsoft to ship its products without a Java-compatible logo. Sun is asking the judge for another ruling prohibiting Microsoft from shipping Java products unless they contain Sun's version of the code.

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