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Sun: Microsoft worried over Web services

update An executive from Sun Microsystems tells a federal court that the software giant is working to nullify threats to its operating system dominance.

update WASHINGTON--A high-level Sun Microsystems executive on Tuesday told a federal court that Microsoft feels threatened by the industry's move toward Web services and is hard at work trying to co-opt that trend.

"Web services continue to be a substantial, viable threat to Windows," Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's chief strategy officer, said in written testimony submitted to the court. "Because Web services components increasingly reside and run on servers that can be accessed with a variety of client devices, consumers will not be required to purchase Microsoft's desktop operating system in order to run the applications that they desire."

Schwartz was testifying as part of an antitrust case being pursued against Microsoft by the nine states, along with the District of Columbia, that did not sign on to a settlement agreement reached between the software maker, the U.S. Justice Department and several other states in November. The litigating states are seeking stronger sanctions against Microsoft than were imposed in the settlement deal.

"In order for Web services to compete with PC operating systems, they must be able to access and interoperate with a dominant PC operating system and browser: Windows and Internet Explorer," Schwartz said. "If Microsoft can impede the ability of competing Web services to interoperate with Windows and IE, it can protect its operating system monopoly."

The burgeoning field of Web services is intended to provide one-stop shopping for consumers, who could access online sites--that is, the servers on which they reside--from a variety of computing devices including desktop PCs, handheld devices and cell phones. It's a more unified approach than is generally available today given competing and incompatible technologies.

Microsoft has staked an early claim to the territory with its .Net initiative, and Sun--a longtime software rival--has been hustling to catch up.

Schwartz described Microsoft's .Net applications as middleware "that will exist as a layer on top of the Windows operating system," but noted that the company has chosen "to limit the disclosure of those APIs preventing their full implementation on non-Microsoft platforms."

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are pieces of software that allow third-party applications to work with Windows. They are a key facet of the antitrust case: Developers want better access to Windows APIs, complaining that Microsoft programmers get preferential treatment and thus can make Microsoft's middleware--applications such as the Windows Media Player--work better with Windows.

.Net applications run only on Windows, Schwartz emphasized. He argued that because Visual Studio.Net is the first distribution of the .Net platform, which is not yet part of Windows, it can be construed to be middleware.

Defining Web services
Much of Tuesday morning's courtroom proceedings before District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly focused on providing a definition of Web services.

During cross-examination by Microsoft attorney Steven Holley, Schwartz described Web services as "a platform" and said that Microsoft's Web services strategy "represents a threat" to the openness of Web services.

In a series of similarly worded questions, Holley attempted to get Schwartz to agree that Web services are a next-generation, server-based application, but Schwartz consistently disagreed, saying that they are "agnostic with respect to platform."

Holley repeatedly attacked Schwartz's definition of Web services, which his written testimony said would include the simple downloading of text using a Web browser. He charged that such a definition contradicts the definition used by Sun, and repeatedly attempted to get Schwartz to agree that SOAP, XML and UDDI--protocols used by Microsoft--are defined as Web services.

"I believe that is too narrow a definition," Schwartz said.

Schwartz used FTP (file transfer protocol) as an example of a Web service, which in 1990 could be accessed only from a Unix command line but by 1995 could be accessed by a Web browser. He called that an "evolution" of Web services and said it had nothing to do with XML.

In his written testimony, Schwartz charged that Microsoft can use Windows and IE to change the Web services experience for consumers. He noted, for example, that "Microsoft also has the power to exclude competing browsers from accessing or correctly displaying Web pages that Internet Explorer can correctly access and display."

He gave as an example the relaunch of MSN in October, when the Web site locked out competing browsers Opera, Mozilla and Netscape, among others. Even after Microsoft fixed the problem, IE displayed pages much differently than Netscape, he said, adding that with IE 6 it presents "a very modular and modern looking Web site," while Netscape's look and feel is "suboptimal."

In court, Holley and Schwartz sparred at length over how IE6 and Netscape display MSN differently. "The content is exactly the same; the difference is the format?" Holley asked Schwartz.

Another issue involved whether Microsoft's MSN game site works with non-Microsoft browsers. Schwartz asserted that this was an issue with ActiveX, and he and Holley spent a long time discussing the openness of ActiveX. Holley asserted that Netscape now supports ActiveX, but Schwartz suggested that was only because the Mozilla team reverse-engineered the technology, which, he said, is no way to run a business. Schwartz noted that Microsoft discontinued ActiveX for the Macintosh and charges $3,000 for ActiveX for Solaris 2.5.

In written testimony, Schwartz said the "browser is also a key distribution channel for middleware necessary for Web services. By controlling the browser, Microsoft can bundle middleware that supports its own Web services."

Schwartz also charged that Microsoft has the ability to ensure the ubiquitous distribution of .Net using Windows and IE. He gave as examples .Net Alerts, which are delivered using Window Messenger, and IE's ability to deliver Windows Media content through proprietary browser controls.

"If competing Web services cannot interact with Windows PCs to the same extent as Microsoft Web services...then the playing field is again tilted toward Microsoft," he said.

"A Web services gateway"
Schwartz further charged that using Windows XP's two bundled Web browsers--IE 6 and MSN Explorer--Microsoft has established "a Web services gateway." He noted that typing "e-mail" in the address bar of IE 6 brings up MSN search, which automatically connects to Microsoft's Hotmail Web site.

In court, Holley attempted to deflect Schwartz's allegations about IE and MSN Explorer by asking a witness whether AOL's Web client opens to AOL's home page and cannot be changed. Schwartz said it does, but emphasized: "I don't believe AOL is a monopoly. I have the choice not to use AOL's product."

MSN Explorer, Schwartz said in written testimony, has "even tighter built-in links to Microsoft's Web services." He noted that through the buttons used to access content, "MSN Explorer actually locks its users into preselected Microsoft applications, Web sites and services that can't be altered."

The e-mail icon, for example, always takes people to Microsoft's Hotmail, and the money icon to MSN Money Central. He noted also that people are required to sign up for Microsoft's Passport authentication service--a key element of the company's .Net strategy--if they want to use MSN Explorer.

Schwartz also gave other ways that Microsoft drives the adoption of Passport, which works only through Microsoft servers. Hotmail and MSN e-mail, for example, automatically register for Passport. Windows XP repeatedly prompts people to sign up for a Passport account after installation, Schwartz added.

"By exploiting its control of Windows, Microsoft can ensure that more PC end users will sign up for its .Net Passport service than any competing authentication service," he said.

In court, Holley said that PC makers in fact have the option to turn off the Passport pop-up in Windows XP. But Schwartz said he didn't know of any who had.

In his written testimony, the Sun executive concluded that Microsoft has the ability to "degrade or exclude competing services" and, through APIs and other means, to "threaten to impair or even prevent competing Web services from interoperating fully with PCs while simultaneously locking Windows users to Microsoft's Web services offered as a part of .Net."