Despite assurances from HP executives Friday that the company will avoid legal hassles over Java, it is far from clear that HP's do-it-yourself, slimmed-down version of Java follows Sun's rules.
"We haven't given anyone the rights to 'clone' Personal Java, Embedded Java, or JavaCard," said Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products for Sun's JavaSoft division. "If that's what they're doing, we need to sit down and talk with them."
He added, however, that Sun isn't necessarily putting its lawyers on red alert.
"We're no place close to taking legal action," said Kannegaard. "We just want their executives to explain what they're doing."
Meanwhile, HP executives insist that they have done nothing wrong.
"We feel confident that we're on solid legal ground," said Jim Bell, general manager of HP's Internet software business unit. "Sun has raised no objections and has known all along."
Sun executives gave HP the thumbs-up last week because they didn't realize HP was cloning Embedded Java, Kannegaard said.
Embedded Java is used for devices that need much less computing power.
Instead of licensing Java from Sun, HP has decided to create its own version of Embedded Java from scratch to run on small devices such as pagers and printers. HP developers used the written Java blueprint, or specification, but did not use any technology from Sun.
According to the copyright language that accompanies the Java specification, a clone, or "clean-room implementation" of the Java virtual machine, is perfectly legal. (The virtual machine is a software layer written for each operating system that allows the operating system to understand and run programs written with the Java language.)
But that copyright language applies to the full set of Java blueprints for desktops and servers--not to the personal, embedded, or smart card versions of Java tailored to run on smaller devices, according to Sun executives.
Sun doesn't have any written rules governing the cloning of these "mini" Javas, they said. Executives met over the weekend to discuss what steps to take with HP.
If Sun decides to hold HP to the letter of the written regulations, it might have a legal case. HP executives acknowledged on Friday that they had created "a subset of the full spec" that might not match Sun's version of Embedded Java. HP's virtual machine "conforms to the full Java specification" but contains a subset of the Java libraries, according to HP.
Sun hasn't had the chance to inspect HP's code and most likely won't this week, Kannegaard said.
"We have created a subset of the full spec and they have created a subset of the full spec," said Bell of HP. "If we had licensed it from them, we would have had to take their slice. We don't know if ours is different."
Whatever the outcome, HP has made it clear that it will not use the Java logo in its home-brewed version. Microsoft ran afoul of Sun last fall when it shipped its browser and software development tools with a slightly altered version of Java but didn't remove the high-profile "steaming cup" logo. The companies traded lawsuits and their legal battle is likely to continue for some time.