Java suit hearing under way

Attorneys are squaring off in court on Sun's request that Java features in Windows 98 be modified.

4 min read
SAN JOSE, California--Attorneys for Sun Microsystems and Microsoft squared off in a daylong hearing regarding Sun's request that the software giant modify Java features in Windows 98.

A Microsoft executive today made it clear the company believes it was within the rights of its contract with Sun to make extensions to the Java programming language, the basis for an ongoing lawsuit between the two computing giants.

In testimony at the U.S. District Court here--conducted as part of a hearing to lay out arguments in the case--Microsoft's senior vice president for its application and tools group, Robert Muglia, insisted his company has "broad rights to make extensions to Java" as part of its contract.

The executive also painted a picture of clear understanding of the terms of the agreement, signed in March 1996, between Sun and the software giant. The deal allowed Microsoft to license the Java language, a key component in its efforts to implement an Internet strategy within its software products.

Referring to several key negotiating sessions, Muglia repeatedly mentioned JavaSoft president Alan Baratz in testimony, saying that Baratz seemed clear on the licensing deal, which concerned both cross-platform Java implementations and Microsoft Windows software extensions.

"We believed we would make a great implementation," Muglia said on the stand. "We felt this would be an OK thing."

During a brief cross-examination before a midday break, defense attorneys for Sun started to chip away at Muglia's notion that Microsoft was within its contract in offering both cross-platform and Windows-specific extensions to Java.

In a packed courtroom, the Microsoft executive responded curtly to several inquiries from Sun lawyers concerning the nature of the agreement. "It certainly was not our intent to change [the Java Virtual Machine] in an incompatible way," Muglia said.

Microsoft also presented two educators, professor Peter Lee of Carnegie Mellon University and Jerry Housman, professor of economics at MIT, to support its case.

The company's witnesses "injected a sense of the real world" into the case by stressing that developers are offered a choice through the availability of Microsoft Java products, said Tom Burt, associate general counsel for Microsoft, during an impromptu press conference after the hearing ended for the day. Microsoft contends Sun's premise in the case does not jibe with the everyday philosophy of the common developer.

Sun presents its side of the case tomorrow. Thursday's hearing is closed to the public.

Microsoft's business dealings surrounding the programming language increasingly have come into the crosshair of government prosecutors, who last week introduced evidence into their antitrust lawsuit that Microsoft engaged in a broad pattern of conduct designed to prevent widespread use of Java.

The three-day hearing, which began this morning before U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte, is bringing Microsoft's Java efforts into further focus.

Sun sued Microsoft for breach of contract last October, alleging that Java features in Microsoft products failed to pass compatibility tests required by their licensing agreement. In May, Sun broadened its suit to include claims of copyright violations and unfair competition and asked for a ruling ordering Microsoft to bring Java features in Windows 98 and Internet Explorer in line with the tests.

A Sun spokeswoman declined to discuss what the company intends to argue at the hearing. But court documents filed in the case give some good clues.

"Microsoft is intentionally and deliberately attempting to fragment the Java programming environment by causing programs written [for Sun's Java implementation] to fail to operate on the Microsoft product implementations," Sun attorneys alleged in a brief filed in May. "Microsoft also has executed three strategies to constrict, if not strangle, the channels of distribution for compatible implementations of Java."

Microsoft flatly denies the claims. A spokesman reiterated the fact that the company maintains it has fully complied with its contract with Sun.

The only disagreement between the two sides over compatibility pertains to the so-called Java Native Interface (JNI), which customizes Java for a specific operating system. But JNI is excluded from compatibility requirements, according to Microsoft.

Burt claimed Microsoft has passed all compatibility tests except one that covers JNI. Sun said it would comment on the case after it presents its side starting tomorrow.

The legal dispute has powerful repercussions for the entire software industry. According to internal Microsoft documents, the company views Java as a threat to its dominance in operating systems because a computer user running Java could run numerous applications without the need for Microsoft's products. According to critics, Microsoft responded to the threat by sabotaging Java's "cross-platform" promise.

Last week, attorneys from the Justice Department and 20 states claimed Microsoft pressured partners such as Apple Computer and Intel not to develop Java products that might be at odds with Windows. A heavily "redacted," or censored, version of a court brief deleted specific details of the alleged dealings.

Based on an earlier decision by Judge Whyte in the case, Microsoft may have a difficult time proving its version of Java complies with its license from Sun. In a ruling issued in March, Whyte ordered Microsoft to stop displaying Sun's Java-compatible logo on Microsoft products and said the software giant's interpretation of the license was "inconsistent with Java's objective of cross-platform compatibility."