Sun: Microsoft forcing customers to upgrade

Sun's top software executive criticizes Microsoft's plans to stop distributing Java-dependent software, as Microsoft updates its support schedule.

Sun Microsystems' top software executive criticized Microsoft's decision to drop older software products that rely on Java software and offered a steep discount on Sun's own desktop software.

In an open letter to customers, Sun executive vice president Jonathan Schwartz said Microsoft's decision to stop distributing older products such as Windows 98 is a deliberate attempt to coerce customers to upgrade to newer software.

"It's a lesson in how a company with legendary market dominance can lose sight of customer priorities and force an unnecessary transition on to a customer base already paralyzed with viruses and security breaches," Schwartz said in the letter, published Thursday.

Schwartz took the opportunity to pitch Sun's own desktop software, which uses Java and runs on Linux, to current Microsoft customers. "Sun Microsystems will agree to match any offer Microsoft puts on the table for desktop software--at 50 percent of Microsoft's quoted offer."

Schwartz took issue with Microsoft's claim that Sun "forced its hand" to stop distributing older products.

In a , Microsoft said several products would be phased out because of a settlement reached with Sun in January 2001 regarding the distribution of Windows products that use the Java Virtual Machine, software needed to run programs written with Sun's Java language.

The discontinued products include several popular packages, including Windows 98, Outlook 2000 and SQL Server 7.

Microsoft's distribution of its own Java software is the subject of a long-standing suit against Microsoft, in which Sun succeeded in restricting Microsoft from distributing its own Java virtual machine for Windows. In 2001, the companies reached an agreement, in which Microsoft would stop shipping products that included a Microsoft-written Java virtual machine by January 2004. In October, that deadline was extended to September of next year.

Schwartz claimed that Microsoft did not need to pull the plug on its Java-dependent products so soon.

"The agreement between Sun and Microsoft gives customers a graceful transition path to a future platform," Schwartz said. "Moreover, Sun has offered, and will continue to offer, a license to Java technology that would spare Microsoft any transition whatsoever, so long as Microsoft maintains compatibility."

For its part, a Microsoft representative said Schwartz was being a "tad misleading" in its characterization of the license extension agreement between the two companies.

Under the terms of the court order and the agreement between the two companies, Microsoft only has the right to provide security fixes to certain versions of its Java virtual machine until Sept. 30 of next year, said Tony Goodhew, product manager in Microsoft's developer division who has been involved in the Java court case for six years.

Goodhew also underscored the fact that the court case restricts Microsoft's ability to distribute its own Java software, not the support schedule for its older products.

Microsoft can extend distribution of older Windows products by updating the version of the Java virtual machine or by removing it, Goodhew said. For certain products, Microsoft has elected to rework the embedded Java software, allowing the company to extend distribution beyond the January 2004 cutoff, he said.

But for other products, including the first edition of Windows 98, Microsoft decided to begin phasing out distribution.

"We looked at the list of products, and there are some products, like Windows 98, which are past or right at the end of their product lifecycle. It doesn't make sense to go through the process of rereleasing that code, when it's at the end of its life," Goodhew said.

Microsoft earlier this year announced the support schedule for Windows 98. The company will stop extended support in mid-January and offer only Web-based self-help after that.

For other products' support plans, customers can check Microsoft's support Web site, which includes a page with lifecycle support for Windows-specific products.

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