In a move that may blow away the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Java applications industry, a federal judge has denied Microsoft's request to stay a key hearing in the high-profile legal battle over the programming language that has raged between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.
Software programmers have been waiting for the next move by the courts as they try to assess which direction the market will go with the "write-once, run-anywhere" Java programming language.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte will preside over the hearing on February 27, at which Sun will seek an injunction forbidding Microsoft from using the Java logo pending a final outcome in the case, a court clerk confirmed today. The logo indicates whether the program is compatible with Sun's Java technology.
Sun filed a lawsuit in October claiming that Microsoft intentionally was trying to create its own, separate version of the Java technology in an attempt to thwart Sun's promise that the language would run on any platform. Microsoft has denied the charges, and had been attempting to postpone a hearing on Sun's request for a preliminary injunction until June. Whyte denied the motion two weeks ago.
Java developers, meanwhile, have grown increasingly anxious as a result of the uncertainty the dispute has created. One hailed Judge Whyte's decision for an early hearing as "fantastic" news.
"I would love to see the case resolved in any fashion it could be," said Mike DeVries, vice president of marketing at Vision Software, which develops tools based on the Java language. The dispute, he said, makes companies reluctant to make significant investments in Java until they are confident that they know where the language is going.
Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group, agreed. "As long as there's a cloud over [Java], developers are unlikely to adopt either [Microsoft's or Sun's version]," he said.
While a preliminary injunction is only the first step in what still could be a protracted court battle, Enderle added, "it might provide enough sunlight that we can draw conclusions to how the trial might go."
Sun's suit accuses Microsoft of breaching a contract promising to design Java features that are compatible with other platforms. Sun has claimed that Microsoft's implementation doesn't pass independent compatibility tests, and wants to stop the Redmond, Washington-based software giant from using the Java logo until that changes.
Sun also is trying to stop Microsoft from implementing Java code in its products, but legal observers generally regard Sun's chances of success in that regard as slim. Enderle said Microsoft probably recognizes that Sun's strongest advantage concerns rights to use the Java logo, which features a steaming cup of coffee. Over the last two months Microsoft has been quietly removing the logo from its products and Web site.