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Sun wins Java round in court

A federal judge orders Microsoft to remove the Java logo from all products that use the programming language.

In a major win for Sun Microsystems (SUNW), a federal judge today ordered Microsoft (MSFT) to remove the Java-compatible logo from its products pending a final outcome in the case, representatives from both companies said.

The ruling, handed down late this afternoon by U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose, California, See special coverage: 
Sun wins Java round requires Microsoft to remove the Java logo from its Internet Explorer browser and Software Developer Kit for Java. In the past, Microsoft has used the logo to promote both products as being Java-compatible.

The preliminary injunction stems from a suit Sun filed in October, which alleged Microsoft's implementation of Java did not pass compatibility tests required of all licensees. Sun argues that until Microsoft passes the tests, the licensing contract prevents the software giant from using the Java logo to promote its products. In its lawsuit, Sun is asking the court to enforce those terms.

CNET Radio talks with analyst Greg Blotnick
The outcome of the dispute could have important repercussions for the entire computer industry. A programming language that runs seamlessly on any platform eventually could threaten Microsoft's dominance in PC operating systems. In court papers, Sun has accused Microsoft of deliberately trying to sabotage Java by splintering it into different versions and in effect shattering Java's "write once, run anywhere" promise. Microsoft has denied the charge and says the conflict stems from a simple contract dispute.

At Sun's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, company executives hailed the ruling as a victory not only for Sun but also for end users and Java programmers. "What is important for us is that it be clear to the world which products pass our Java-compatible test suites," said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft division. The order, he added, removes any confusion in the marketplace about whether Sun endorses Microsoft's implementation of Java.

Holding court with reporters at an impromptu press conference, Sun CEO Scott McNealy said the suit was all about brand awareness. "The average user going out to the store and seeing the logo thinks he's getting something Java-compatible and this is not right," he declared. "This [ruling] is going to protect our very valuable steaming cup."

Meanwhile, the software giant said today it would comply with the order immediately but vowed to press on in its legal battle with Sun. "This is really just a minor skirmish in the bigger war about who is complying with this contract and who is not," said Microsoft associate general counsel Tom Burt. "Once all the facts are heard, we will prevail."

Tod Nielsen, Microsoft's general manager for developer relations, added that the 19-page decision was limited only to the packaging and advertising of its products. "This preliminary ruling has no impact on any of our products," he said. "As far as the bits the developers use or download from the Web, it has no impact."

In legal papers, Microsoft has argued that its license for Java prevents Sun from seeking the very preliminary injunction it has requested. But the judge rejected that argument, holding that if Microsoft's interpretation were to prevail, it "would essentially allow Microsoft to destroy the cross-platform compatibility of the Java programming environment."

The Redmond company also had accused Sun of imposing a more stringent set of compatibility tests than is required by the licensing contract. Whyte rejected that argument, holding that Microsoft may not use Sun's logo to promote any product "unless and until each such product first passes the Sun test suite accompanying the most current version of the Java technology incorporated in such product."

Despite the high-stakes nature of the battle, McNealy told reporters today that he does not want to enjoin Microsoft from using Java in its products. "We still want Microsoft to be a distribution channel for Java and to comply with the contract," he said.