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Sun suit says IE failed Java test

Sun sues Microsoft for breach of contract in its obligation to deliver a compatible implementation of Java technology in its products.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) said today it has sued Microsoft (MSFT) for breach of contract in its obligation to deliver a compatible implementation of Java technology in its products.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, Jousting over Java charges Microsoft with trademark infringement, false advertising, breach of contract, and unfair competition.

"We're going to show [Microsoft's] hand in the cookie jar," said Sun CEO Scott McNealy, speaking after giving a keynote address today at a Gartner Group conference in Orlando, Florida. "We're going to show a picture of its hand in the cookie jar to the court."

Microsoft denied the charges. "Microsoft has delivered the most compatible implementation of Java on the marketplace and is well within the terms of our agreement," said Cornelius Willis, the company's director of platform marketing.

But the suit contends the following: "Rather than comply with its contractual obligations, defendant Microsoft has instead embarked on a deliberate course of conduct in an attempt to fragment the standardized application programming environment established by the Java technology; to break the cross-platform compatibility of the Java programming environment; and to implement the Java technology in a manner calculated to cause software developers to create programs that will operate only on platforms that use Microsoft's Win32-based operating systems and no other systems platform or browser."

It seeks an injunction to prevent the software giant from "improperly using" the Java-compatible logo. The company also seeks to block Microsoft from misleading Java developers and prevent them from delivering "anything but fully compatible" Java technology.

Sun said one of Microsoft's contractual obligations is to pass the Java compatibility tests, and it contended today that Microsoft's newly released Internet Explorer 4.0 and its Software Development Kit (SDK) for Java "failed" such tests.

IE 4.0 and the new SDK for Java failed the Java Development Kit 1.1 compatibility test because they do not include the Java native interface (JNI); the remote method invocation (RMI); and because certain parts of the Java code base have been altered or replaced with Windows-specific code in such a way that developers would be "tricked" into thinking that they were using pure Java code, according to Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division.

"Microsoft deceptively altered key Java class libraries then inserted them in their SDK," he said. "Java developers using the altered portions of the SDK will find their applications run only on IE 4.0."

Effective immediately, Sun will cut Microsoft off from any new Java deliverables. One example is Sun's "HotSpot" technology that purportedly will boost Java performance to the same speed of natively compiled C++, Baratz noted.

The embargo will be in effect until the license dispute is resolved, he added.

Microsoft's Willis called the accusation of deception "another Sun conspiracy theory" and argued that the native Windows code was well-marked. "A quick glance at the Java documentation would make that clear," he added.

In explaining its actions, Baratz said the following in a statement: "Sun's first responsibility as stewards of the Java technology is to preserve the significant investments that Sun and hundreds of companies have made. We are required to take this action on behalf of our licensees, the Java industry, and Sun's shareholders."

McNealy added: "We've got to protect the Java logo for our shareholders. Would Coca-Cola allow you to take their brand and do with it what you want?"

The Sun executive said the company decided to file suit against Microsoft after talks to resolve the dispute broke off a week ago Sunday. "Their strategy was just talk, but we had to move on," McNealy noted. "We are absolutely willing to work with them to figure out how to make IE 4.0 compatible."

When asked how they would respond to the possibility of Microsoft walking away from Java altogether, Sun executives preferred not to speculate, saying only that their goal was to bring Microsoft back into compliance.

But one industry analyst saw such a scenario as a possibility. "Microsoft felt there was no alternative a year ago but to provide Java," said Chris LeTocq of market researcher Dataquest."I'm not sure they feel the same way today."

Editor Jai Singh reported from Orlando, Florida.

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