Judge: Java case about contracts

Arcane software issues are not the prime focus of the high-profile Sun-Microsoft suit, writes U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte.

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SAN JOSE, California--The judge presiding over Sun Microsystems' request for a court order halting Microsoft from shipping a modified form of Java told the litigants the case is about contract law, not arcane software development issues.

"Even though some of the questions that I asked are technical ones, I think most of this boils down to contract interpretation and what was the deal that was made," U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte said in an edited transcript of Thursday's closed hearing, released to the public today.

"We are talking about contract interpretation issues, and whether something worked out good or bad for one side or the other depends on how the deal works out," Whyte added.

The judge's statements came as he quizzed attorneys for the two sides after they had made roughly 45-minute arguments each to summarize their cases.

In a March ruling, Whyte ordered Microsoft to stop displaying Sun's Java-compatible logo on Microsoft products and said Microsoft's interpretation of the license was "inconsistent with Java's objective of cross-platform compatibility."

But in Thursday's session, Whyte made no reference to that ruling, though Sun cited it to buttress its argument for the temporary injunction now before the court. The judge gave no indication when he might rule on Sun's latest request.

Sun attorney Lloyd "Rusty" Day said Microsoft's license for Java made the Redmond software company Sun's distributor of the programming language, not a competitor.

"They are obligated by their contract to conform to our standards. What gives them the right to seize control of our technology?" Day said.

He contended that Microsoft's VJ++ 6.0, new Java-based development tools, introduces "a new language, not the Java language."

Karl Quackenbush argued for Microsoft that Sun had a "fundamental belief that it will be Java that kills Microsoft." He described the licensing agreement as a "fundamental compromise where both sides get some of what they want."

"What Sun is trying to do here, your honor, they are asking you to turn this contract, this fundamental agreement upside down," Quackenbush said.

Whyte asked Sun whether it could require Microsoft to pass compatibility tests for any interface in the Java virtual machine. Sun's attorney said it could test any public interfaces.

Whyte also asked a hypothetical question about a user wanting to run a program built with Sun's Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1 on a Windows 98 machine that had Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine (JVM) installed. What must the user do to have the right JVM used?

"If you bundled the Sun Java virtual machine and you install that on your Windows 98 computer, you're in business. Install the program," Quackenbush said.

Whyte asked other detailed technical questions, demonstrating his understanding of the complex technologies at issue in the case. For example, he quizzed both sides about why a software developer would choose to use "delegate multicast language extensions."