Tech Industry

Judge orders Java settlement negotiations

Judge Ronald Whyte instructs Sun and Microsoft to resolve differences over how Java interacts with code written in the native language of a computer.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte has ordered Sun Microsystems and Microsoft to begin settlement talks on how Java interacts with code written in the native language of a computer.

In a December 29, 1998, order, Judge Whyte instructed the two parties "to immediately schedule a settlement conference" before Magistrate Judge Edward Infante or another mutually agreed individual.

A meeting has not yet been See related story:
Microsoft's holy war on Java arranged, according to Sun, but one will likely occur "very soon." Microsoft is "reviewing the details [of the judge's order] but will certainly comply," according to a spokesman.

Resolving differences between the two companies' approaches to "native code interfaces" would not end the complex case, which features a dispute over the terms of Microsoft's license to Sun's programming language.

Java is designed to run on any computing platform. In order to do so, the famous "write once, run anywhere" software utilizes a "virtual machine." Found in a computer's operating system or in an application, the Java virtual machine translates a Java program so it can run on the platform at hand.

When a Java program accesses a feature specific to a certain platform, however, it accesses the native code. Sun specifies one way for Java to interact with a machine's code, the Java Native Interface (JNI), but until a new version of Microsoft's Java virtual machine was released on December 7--pursuant to a preliminary injunction favoring Sun--Microsoft used its own ways, the Raw Native Interface (RNI) and J/Direct.

The latter work best on Microsoft's own Windows platform, compromising Sun's stated goal of universality. But "Microsoft has recognized that there will be times when the developer will want to use native functionality already built into the platform to gain more efficient performance using less code," the order reads.

Therefore, Judge Whyte suggested, "The parties might want to consider [a solution] that achieves Sun's goal of universality and Microsoft's goal of more efficient performance and ease of coding."

Microsoft has filed a notice of appeal of November's preliminary injunction, which essentially required the Redmond, Washington, company to add JNI to its Java offerings. Sun says it has not yet received the appeal itself, which it says is due on January 13.

Microsoft has also asked for an extension of the time it has to comply the injunction. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for January 15.

In October 1997, Sun Microsystems sued Microsoft for breach of contract and unfair competition, alleging Microsoft "sabotaged" Sun's Java by adding Windows-dependent "extensions" in violation of a license the two companies signed. Microsoft argues that the contract permitted the modifications and that its products run cross-platform versions of Java better than any other implementation, including Sun's.