Sun, Microsoft Reach Java Deal

UPDATE: The two rivals come together to give developers more time to migrate applications from Microsoft's JVM to Sun's version.

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems will announce Tuesday that the Windows operating system will support the Java programming language for nine months longer than originally planned.

"We're very pleased to announce that Sun and Microsoft have agreed on a maintenance license for the MS JVM ," Sun spokesperson Laura Ramsey told

The deal should give Microsoft customers whose applications are tied to the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine (JVM) more time to migrate their applications to another JVM before Microsoft stops supporting its JVM with security patches and other maintenance fixes. The two companies said the deal is a response to developers and enterprises which have expressed concern about their ability to eliminate dependencies on the Microsoft JVM by January.

"At Sun, the needs of our customers are of paramount concern," said Rich Green, vice president, Sun Developer Platforms Group, at Sun. "Industry-wide replacement of the MSJVM may be a significant undertaking. This agreement gives customers who require it more time to make the transition, with assurance that Microsoft will continue repairing any critical concerns in the MSJVM while the transition is underway."

Chris Jones, Microsoft vice president for the Windows Client Division, added, "This agreement is in direct response to our customers' request for more time to manage the transition, and to their need for continued support of the MSJVM. Customers now have a year to identify MSJVM dependencies and implement their migration strategies. Microsoft is committed to supporting our customers with the MSJVM, migration tools and transition information throughout this period."

Microsoft had planned to cease support for its JVM in January 2004. The new deal will give Microsoft's customers until September 2004 to implement migration plans before support ends.

Ramsey explained that the new licensing agreement is very specific in scope, giving Microsoft the ability to provide fixes for security vulnerabilities and critical defects in its JVM until Sept. 30, 2004. The two companies have also collaborated on a Web site that provides upgrade information, diagnostic tools and documentation to developers that need to migrate applications from the Microsoft JVM to Sun's JVM.

The new deal between the bitter rivals comes as the culmination of a protracted legal struggle between the two companies, stemming from alterations Microsoft made to Java to create its Microsoft JVM. In June 2003, that struggle seemed to reach a balancing point, when a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Microsoft does not have to carry the Java programming language in its Windows operating system.

The three-judge panel in Richmond, Va., struck down a lower court's "must-carry" ruling. However, it did accept the lower court's determination that Microsoft engaged in anticompetitive acts, and also affirmed a copyright infringement injunction which prevented Microsoft from making its JVM available for Internet download.

Ramsey noted that the deal does not "in any way change the status of the antitrust suit," though she also said that Sun has no updates on where it stands with the suit at this time.

Roots of the Dispute
Microsoft licensed Java technology from Sun in 1996, with the stipulation that Microsoft would only deliver compatible implementations of the technology. Following the agreement, Microsoft used the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1.4, a version that had long been superceded, and added extensions to take advantage of the Windows operating system.

Sun alleged that Microsoft implemented the technology -- whose claim to fame was the ability to run on any operating system -- in such a way that it was only compatible with Windows. Alleging that Microsoft had violated its licensing terms, the company initiated a lawsuit in 1997.

In January 2001, Microsoft settled that suit to the tune of $20 million. As part of the settlement, Sun gave Microsoft the right to continue using the outdated JDK for seven years, though Microsoft made no commitment to do so. In July 2001, enmity between the two companies erupted again, when Microsoft announced that it would not include a JVM in Windows XP.

Sun quickly cried foul on that decision, and argued it was an anti-competitive act that sought to destroy Java. In March 2002, the company filed another lawsuit against the Redmond, Wash., software titan, asking for more than $1 billion in damages and a stipulation requiring Microsoft to distribute Sun's current binary implementation of the Java plug-in as part of Windows XP and Internet Explorer.

Though still gearing up for another legal bout with Sun, Microsoft backed down slightly in June 2002, when it announced it would provide a JVM with the XP Service Pack for delivery that summer. However, it also announced that January 2004 would be the end of its support for Java.

The June 2003 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals puts an end to the question of Windows' inclusion of Java, but leaves the door open for Sun to make more anti-trust troubles for Microsoft, analysts said.

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