Sun-Microsoft dispute gets ugly

Microsoft sued over Java in Internet Explorer and SDK

San Francisco (October 7, 1997) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. is escalating the battle with Microsoft Corp. over Sun's Java software technology, with the announcement today that it is suing Microsoft for failing to stick to the letter of its Java licensing agreement.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Jose, CA, alleges that Microsoft breached its contractual obligation to deliver a compatible implementation of Java, and Sun is seeking an injunction to prevent Microsoft from improperly using the Java Compatible logo, according to a statement from Sun.

Sun also is "seeking to prevent Microsoft from misleading Java developers and to prevent them from delivering anything but fully compatible Java technology implementations," the statement said.

"By not shipping the complete JDK (Java Development Kit) in the final version of Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0, Microsoft has deliberately breached its contractual obligation," says Alan Baratz, JavaSoft division president, in a conference call today. "Our goal is to get Microsoft back into compliance," he claims.

Baratz says that only four vendors are presently shipping JDK 1.1-compliant products: Sun, Borland, Symantec, and IBM. But he says that the most obvious non-compliant vendor, Netscape Communications Corp., is not being sued because "Netscape has never claimed to be shipping a complete version of JDK 1.1," and "Netscape is committed to delivering a fully compatible version of JDK 1.1 in their next major release."

Reading from a prepared statement, a Microsoft spokesperson today called Sun's claims "outrageous," adding that "Microsoft has delivered the most compatible implementation of Java on the marketplace and is well within the terms of our agreement." The spokesperson declined to comment on Sun's specific allegations, saying, "Since this is a matter now in active litigation, we will not be speaking about the details of the case in the press."

Sun: Microsoft added methods and fields to Java classes

Since the final version of IE 4.0 was made available last week, Sun claims it has run the product through Java compatibility tests and has previously said that some changes to the API (application programming interface) could violate license agreements.

Today, Sun announced that Microsoft has failed those compatibility tests of its IE 4.0 browser and Software Development Kit for Java. The company claims that Microsoft has added methods and fields to the Java classes on the Java hierarchy. According to Sun, approximately 50 methods and 50 fields have been added to the Java APIs within things like the AWT (abstract windowing toolkit) package and I/O package. Baratz says that, for example, the interface method used to query and find what color is painted on a computer's screen has been altered by Microsoft. According to him, in some cases "you have to use the extended version of the interface [provided by Microsoft] to get the answer." This means that applications would run differently on IE 4.0 than from a browser that fully supported JDK 1.1.

The complaint also charges Microsoft with trademark infringement, false advertising, breach of contract, unfair competition, interference with prospective economic advantage, and inducing breach of contract.

Sun accuses Microsoft of embarking on "a deliberate course of conduct in an attempt to fragment the standardized application programming environment established by the Java technology, to break the cross-platform compatibility of the Java programming environment, and to implement the Java technology in a manner calculated to cause software developers to create programs that will operate only on platforms that use defendant Microsoft's Win32-based operating systems and no other systems platform or browser."

Java, both a programming language and a platform-independent operating environment, is seen by many computer industry observers as a threat to Microsoft Windows's stranglehold on the desktop operating system environment. While Microsoft has responded to the popularity of Java by licensing the software from Sun for inclusion into its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, its implementation of Java has apparently displeased Sun by tying it too closely to the Windows operating system.

But according to one analyst, J.P. Morgenthal of NC.Focus, Microsoft's implementation is deliberately non-compliant. "This is a pretty blatant move by Microsoft to change the return items from method calls," he says. "Why would Microsoft go and do that unless they were purposely antagonizing Sun into a lawsuit?" According to Morgenthal, Microsoft's actions undermine Java's Achilles' heel: interoperability. By having a non-compliant JVM on Windows, he speculates, Microsoft hopes "to show the power of BASIC and the Windows platform. Java is threatened. Windows is not. And Java is threatened because one group [Microsoft] refuses to be compliant."

And while Sun can exercise its legal rights over the use of the Java name, it can do little to stop Microsoft from implementing a "clean room" version of the Java virtual machine, says Morgenthal.

Elizabeth Heichler is a correspondent for the IDG News Service, a JavaWorld affiliate. Robert McMillan is Associate Editor with SunWorld magazine, one of JavaWorld's sister publications.

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