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Java spat to percolate in court

Microsoft's legal worries continue on Tuesday, when it squares off against Sun Microsystems over key Java software.

Microsoft's legal worries will continue on Tuesday, when it squares off against Sun Microsystems in an antitrust suit filed by its bitter rival.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz in Baltimore has scheduled three to four days of arguments in the case, which alleges that Microsoft tried to strong-arm the Java programming language out of existence.

Sun has asked Motz to halt the distribution of Microsoft's version of the Java Virtual Machine--which allegedly contains crucial incompatibilities--and instead force the company to include the "latest, compatible version" with Windows XP. That operating system did not initially include a Java interpreter.

Java lets programs run on a variety of computers without having to be changed for each one. Because a Java program can run, for instance, on an IBM mainframe, a Sun Unix server or a Dell Windows server, it represents a potential threat to Microsoft.

On Tuesday, both sides will present opening arguments of up to 45 minutes each. Sun will then call three witnesses: Rich Green, company vice president; Rick Ross, founder of the Java Lobby; and University of Chicago economist Dennis Carlton.

Microsoft's witnesses, who likely will testify later in the week, include Chris Jones, vice president of the Windows Client Group at Microsoft, and XML expert Andrew Layman, the company said.

This lawsuit is not directly related to the many other legal proceedings against Microsoft. Scores of class-action lawsuits against the company have been consolidated and are pending in Baltimore federal court, while the U.S. Justice Department has agreed to settle a long-running pursuit of the company that began in early 1998.

On Monday, West Virginia said it joined Massachusetts in appealing a Nov. 1 decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. She approved the federal settlement with Microsoft but rejected the effort by nine states to go further, dubbing it an "unjustified manipulation of the marketplace" and a brazen attempt to help competitors.

Battle's history
Sun is pinning its hopes on a June 2001 ruling in the Justice Department antitrust case. In that decision, a federal appeals court ruled that Microsoft had illegally tried to maintain its operating system monopoly in an attempt to eradicate competitive products such as Java and Netscape's Web browser.

In October, Motz indicated that he would allow Sun to use some of those earlier legal conclusions in the current lawsuit.

Sun's case also builds on its previous legal assault on its rival, which began in October 1997 and alleged that Microsoft violated its license agreement by distributing incompatible versions of Java and deceptively promoted those versions as compatible. The two companies settled in Jan. 2001, with Microsoft agreeing to pay Sun $20 million.

Much of Sun's current case relies on predictions, saying that if Microsoft had not wielded its market power so ruthlessly, Java would have been more successful.

"But for Microsoft's unlawful fragmentation of the Java platform and its unlawful attack on the distribution of the Navigator and Java platforms, the installed base of these alternative platforms would have been far greater today," Sun said in court documents.

Sun argues that Microsoft is now trying to supplement--or even replace--its Windows monopoly by encouraging developers to write code for the .Net platform instead. In addition, Sun says "Microsoft has refused to port Office to competing platforms in order to illegally maintain its monopoly" and to "force" consumers to purchase products such as Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Internet Information Server and Microsoft SQL Server.

"Sun is seeking the court's assistance to force its version of Java through a distribution channel," Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said. "It gives them a leg up on competition not just against Microsoft, but others in the industry."

Microsoft's own arguments, submitted in a series of filings with the court, say that "Sun can cite no antitrust case that has ever granted a mandatory injunction before trial on a preliminary injunction motion."

In addition, Microsoft claims that Sun waited approximately four years to file this lawsuit, that any monopoly Microsoft has was lawfully obtained, and that Sun's proposal is nearly identical to one that Kollar-Kotelly considered and rejected.