Microsoft: Sun wanted to destroy Wintel

Stinging from another showing of damaging testimony by Bill Gates, the software giant paints Sun as an aggressor that oversold its Java technology.

5 min read
WASHINGTON--Stinging from another showing of damaging testimony by Microsoft chief Bill Gates, the software giant today painted Sun Microsystems as an aggressor that plotted to destroy the high-tech industry's biggest players while overselling its Java technology.

With Java inventor and Sun vice president James Gosling on the stand, Microsoft's day in court Microsoft attorney Tom Burt introduced documents revealing an aggressive plan by Sun to develop technology that would topple the so-called Wintel duopoly. The strategy involved turning Java into its own platform-independent operating system and embedding some of the technology on a microchip.

Before calling Gosling to the stand, Justice Department (DOJ) lead prosecutor David Boies showed new videotaped portions of Gates's sworn testimony in the landmark antitrust trial under way here, in which the CEO claimed he was unaware of key Microsoft Java strategies and argued over the meaning of a common vulgarism.

A programming language designed to build applications that run on multiple platforms, Java posed a threat to Microsoft's dominant Windows franchise. The other half of Sun's plan, Burt suggested, was to undermine Intel's dominance of the chip market by embedding Java code into a new chip code-named Cafe.

Among the documents Burt cited for support were slides of a September 1995 presentation Sun cofounder and vice president of research Bill Joy made to his colleagues. Included among the goals were: establishing "Java ubiquity," extending "Java to be a system rather than an application," and retaining intellectual property "and control of the language."

Gosling resisted Burt's allegations, countering that Sun's plan "does not imply the exclusion" of other platforms, but rather the creation of new ones. While Java "allows you, all of the sudden, to be very innovative in designing chips," he said, he downplayed plans to design a Java-enabled chip, saying that embedding a Java virtual machine "would be a crazy thing to do."

Earlier in today's session, Burt challenged the "write-once-run-anywhere" promise that Sun has used to sell the world on Java, pointing to what he called "lowest common denominator functionality" from which cross-platform applications can suffer. For instance, he said, applications written in 100-percent pure Java cannot take advantage of more than a single button on a computer mouse because they must be compatible with Apple Computer's Macintosh platform. Competing platforms such as Windows and Sun's Solaris, meanwhile, support two and three mouse buttons.

"There are certainly tasks to which Java is not appropriate," said Gosling. "That's why there are multiple languages in the world."

In written testimony unsealed yesterday, Gosling said Microsoft has threatened cross-platform Java by "flooding the market" with a version of the programming language that contains proprietary Windows extensions. Microsoft saw the technology as a threat to its dominance, because cross-platform Java would allow programmers to write a single application that would run on Windows as well as other operating systems, Gosling added.

The DOJ and 20 states allege that Microsoft has a monopoly in the operating system market, and used it to snuff out Java. It is a violation of antitrust laws to "willfully maintain" even a legally obtained monopoly, or to use it to restrain a competing product.

As Microsoft's associate general counsel and one of the chief strategists in the software giant's contentious lawsuit against Sun, Burt is intimately familiar with the technology and legal issues surrounding Java. His cross-examination today appeared to be aimed at showing that Microsoft, in building proprietary extensions into Java and steering partners away from 100-percent pure Java, was merely responding to the same shortcomings that Sun allegedly already has acknowledged. Burt also appeared to be trying to undo some of the damage done by the release of internal Microsoft emails, arguing that Sun was out to "kill" Microsoft with Java, to quote from an message sent by Sun chief executive Scott McNealy.

Preceding Gosling's testimony this morning, Gates, via videotaped deposition, disputed--as he has done on other occasions during the trial--the meaning of an often-heard figure of speech. This time the expression in question was a vulgarism one of his lieutenants used in an email.

Antitrust prosecutors showed the CEO being asked about a May 1997 email in which Microsoft manager Ben Slivka said he soon would publicly disparage a Java product provided by Sun Microsystems.

"JDK 1.2 has JFC, which we're going to be pissing on at every opportunity," Slivka told Gates in the email, referring to a software developer tool known as Java Development Kit and a software library known as Java Foundation Classes. Asked in the deposition about the comment, Gates was evasive.

"I don't know if he's referring to pissing on JFC or pissing on JDK1.2, nor do I know what he specifically means by 'pissing on,'" Gates answered.

Gates also claimed he was unaware of his company's plans to design a technology called J/Direct, which allows Java applications to exploit unique features in the Windows operating system. Asked if he was aware of the project when it was in development, Gates answered: "I'm not sure."

J/Direct has been a major source of friction between Sun and Microsoft, because Sun claims it defeats the purpose of Java by making applications dependent on Windows. Microsoft has lauded J/Direct for its ability to add powerful Windows functions to Java applications.

As in past deposition segments shown in federal court here, Gates appeared fidgety, shuffling a large stack of papers at one point and occasionally rocking back and forth in his chair.

The judge presiding over the trial recently observed that Gates has not been "particularly responsive" in his videotaped testimony. Some of the CEO's most evasive responses even have drawn laughter in the courtroom, and today was no exception. At one point during the 30-minute video, a bailiff had to motion to courtroom spectators to be quiet.

Speaking outside the courthouse at a noontime recess, Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said that while the deposition transcript was "occasionally amusing," it was "largely irrelevant to this case." Murray added that "the substance of Bill's testimony certainly supports Microsoft's position in this case and undermines the government's claims."

Gosling's testimony is expected to last through at least the end of next Tuesday, and possibly longer. Trial is not in session on Fridays, and there will be no proceedings this Monday.