In a major legal victory for Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW), a U.S. district court judge has ordered Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) to include Sun's version of Java with the Windows operating system. The ruling is part of an ongoing legal battle that Sun is waging against Microsoft, alleging that the software giant violated antitrust laws in its efforts to halt market acceptance of Sun's Java platform.
In a preliminary injunction, Judge J. Frederick Motz found that Microsoft deliberately worked to undermine Java's cross-platform interoperability. "Though pretending to embrace the goal of compatibility, Microsoft intentionally took steps to defeat that goal," Motz wrote in his ruling.
According to Motz, the ruling is designed to "prevent Microsoft from obtaining future advantage from its past wrongs and to correct the distortion in the marketplace that its violations of the antitrust laws have caused."
Microsoft said it will appeal the decision.
Jockeying for Position
Sun introduced Java in 1995. Often called "middleware," the platform provides a common set of application programming interfaces for software developers. In other words, programs written in Java could run on any operating system. Sun widely licensed Java's source code to encourage its adoption.
"As soon as the Java platform appeared, Microsoft appreciated its importance," Motz wrote, noting that Microsoft entered into an agreement with Sun to license and distribute products based on Java.
However, Motz wrote, quoting from the government's previous Microsoft antitrust findings, "senior Microsoft executives also became deeply concerned that Java had 'the potential ... to diminish the applications barrier to entry' protecting Microsoft's PC operating system monopoly."
A Worried Gates
Furthermore, Motz noted, "Bill Gates wrote that the Java platform 'scares the hell out of me,' because 'it's still very unclear to me what our OS will offer to Java client applications code that will make them unique enough to preserve our market position.'"
"Because of the competitive threat Java presented, Microsoft devised and implemented a strategy to 'wrest control of Java away from Sun,'" Motz wrote. This strategy included making unauthorized modifications to the core Java class libraries and failing to support the Java Native Interface. The tactic failed, and Microsoft's version of Java did not gain traction in the marketplace, but the company did not abandon its efforts to displace Sun's offering.
Java vs. .NET
Indeed, Microsoft has introduced its own proprietary alternative to Java, called .NET . In February, the software giant launched its first product containing the .NET framework, Visual Studio .NET.
Java and .NET currently are competing to be the leading Internet-enabled distributed computing platform.
However, according to Motz, Microsoft has an unfair advantage in this competition. "Microsoft, having unlawfully fragmented the Java platform and having destroyed Sun's channel of distribution for that platform, is now taking advantage of its past antitrust violations to leverage its monopoly in the Intel-compatible PC market into the market for general purpose, Internet-enabled distributed computing platforms," he wrote.
Hence, Motz has attempted to even the playing field by requiring Microsoft to include Java -- provided to the software giant by Sun at no charge -- with Windows. Additionally, he ruled, Microsoft must refrain from "disabling, uninstalling, substituting or diminishing any functionality ... of Java Runtime for Windows."
A Sun Victory
"Clearly, Microsoft was not going to [include Java] of its own volition," said Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio, who feels the court ruling is "great news for Sun, and for the Java third-party community."
DiDio told NewsFactor that Java is viewed much more favorably in the marketplace. "By a two-to-one margin, I have seen more activity around Java and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) than I have around .NET," she said. "Microsoft is playing catch-up."
In DiDio's view, "Microsoft is not going to get away with twisting arms behind the scenes. Now they're being forced to carry the other guy's product. This should be interesting."