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Microsoft counters Java dispute

The software giant files court briefs arguing that a licensing contract it signed bars Sun from pulling the Java logo off its products.

Microsoft (MSFT) today filed court briefs arguing that a licensing contract it signed in the past bars Sun Microsystems (SUNW) from pulling the Java logo off its products.

The bulk of Microsoft's lengthy filing is under seal and unavailable to people not directly involved in the case. It responds to a motion Sun made last November requesting a preliminary injunction that would stop Microsoft from displaying the logo on its Internet Explorer and Software Developer Kit for Java.

The conflict stems from a complaint Sun filed in October alleging that Microsoft's version of Java did not pass a compatibility test imposed on all licensees of the programming language, which Sun says will run on any platform. The licensing contract requires Microsoft to stop using the logo on its products until they pass compatibility tests, Sun said.

Sun's motion for a preliminary injunction requests that Microsoft be barred from using the logo while the case is pending. The objections Microsoft filed in response to the motion were unavailable, but it was clear that the company strongly opposed Sun's request.

"If granted, [the injunction] could cause serious injury to Microsoft," Robert Muglia, the software giant's senior vice president of the applications and tools group, wrote in a declaration that later was made public. "Microsoft would be forced to pull products from the retail channel. Being forced to pull products back from distributors and retailers within 30 days would be disruptive to them."

Muglia also noted that the licensing contract gives Microsoft "the freedom to implement Java in the way we thought best for the Windows platform."

Sun, however, sees the matter differently. In its motion for a preliminary injunction, it accused Microsoft of deliberately attempting to "fragment or balkanize" Java.

Java "poses a serious competitive threat to Microsoft's continued dominance of the market for desktop operating systems," Sun's memorandum stated.

Sun contends that Microsoft's implementation of Java fails to meet a number of compatibility requirements. Microsoft acknowledges that its version of Java doesn't have two pieces of underlying technology that Sun's version does have, but Microsoft product manager Joe Herman said these omissions shouldn't violate the contract.

Sun further contends that a fragmented Java would "diminish the potential benefits of the standardized environment for everyone who implements it." Sun alleges, for example, that Java programmers will be confused by changes Microsoft has made to certain classes of the language, and as a result will be hampered from writing truly cross-platform programs.

Microsoft today countered that those charges are false.

"I have never had a developer complain that our changes to the Java classes misled them into using Windows-specific aspects of our products when they did not intend to do so," Charles Fitzgerald a Microsoft spokesman for Java products, said in a declaration.

Sun is scheduled to respond to Microsoft's filing next week. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for February 27. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose, California.