Microsoft, Sun Java Spat Heads to Federal Court

Developers favoring Microsoft's rich-client environment.
Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are headed to a U.S. federal court in Baltimore today over an ongoing legal spat that is asking a federal judge to force Microsoft to include Sun's Java programming language in Microsoft's Windows XP operating system.

Microsoft attorneys on Tuesday are expected to present arguments before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz against Sun, which filed its antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft back in March. Sun is seeking more than $1 billion in damages, alleging that Microsoft's policies thwarted the development of its Java software programming language.

"Sun finds it important to pursue this legal strategy, but I'm not sure if I agree with it. Most companies have made their decisions about whether, or not, to use Java on the client side, so these latest legal maneuverings are unlikely to have much effect on those decisions going forward," Mike Gilpin, research fellow at Giga Information Group, based in Cambridge, Mass.

Java is designed to run on a variety of computer operating systems, but when Microsoft dropped Java from inclusion in the introduction of its popular Windows XP operating system last year, Sun became infuriated and then took action on the legal front. Since its initial decision, Microsoft has reversed its policy and has said it would include Java in future updates of the Windows XP operating system, but only until 2004.

Java's inclusion in XP "matters more on the client side, rather than on the server side," Gilpin said, adding, "it's all about the browser, because it's typically through the browser that client applications gain access to Java, and make use of Java."

"The fact that Microsoft controls the tools and the environment gives them a built in advantage in supporting rich clients," Gilpin added.

"You could argue that Sun has been hurt by Microsoft, but there are many factors that have caused Java on the client to come out the way it has. Sun has made some mistakes, its user interface is not as usable as the Windows interface, and for example, Visual Studio .Net is winning over developers, who are looking for a rich client environment," Gilpin said.

While nine states proposed that Java be included in XP, as part of the settlement proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, that suggestion was rejected by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on November 1st.

At today's hearing, both Microsoft and Sun will present witnesses, which will include a senior executive, a leading software engineer and a renowned economist.

Whatever happens in the Baltimore courtroom today, the fact remains that Java is having trouble gaining traction among developers looking for a rich client environment.

"Java is useful in multiple operating system environments, but Microsoft's interfaces are much more widely being used," Gilpin said.

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