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Microsoft jabs Sun on Java, browsers

Sun oversold the "write once, run anywhere" promise for Java and agreed to carve up the browser market with Netscape, a Microsoft attorney argues.

    WASHINGTON--Sun Microsystems oversold the "write once, run anywhere" promise it has used in promoting its Java programming language and agreed to carve up the browser market with Netscape Communications, a Microsoft attorney argued today.

    For a second day, Microsoft attorney Tom Burt squared off against Sun Microsystems vice president and Java creator James Gosling, challenging the notion that applications written in 100 percent pure Java will run across multiple platforms without the need for modification, as Sun has claimed.

    As Microsoft's trial in federal court here finished its seventh week, Burt cited Microsoft's day in court a battery of technical articles, including a well-known PC Magazine review, stating that the "write-once, run-anywhere" mantra was demonstrably false. It also held that while cross-platform Java did not yet exist, Microsoft's implementation of Java was more compatible with 100 percent pure Java than any other version, including Sun's.

    "The view that write-once, run-anywhere does not exist today, that's not a view limited to PC Magazine, is it?" Burt asked.

    "There certainly have been some issues in the past, and it's certainly getting better," Gosling replied.

    Gosling, who remained calm and composed throughout the questioning, added that the review tested "Neolithic" versions of Sun's Java products, referring to the Java developer kit 1.0 and 1.1, which were released more than two years ago. "This is a quickly changing world," Gosling said, adding that one of Sun's "chief goals" is improving Java performance.

    In written testimony, Gosling claimed Microsoft has tried to thwart Java's cross-platform promise by "flooding the market" with a version of the programming language that is dependent upon Windows.

    The Justice Department (DOJ) and 20 states claim that Microsoft viewed cross-platform Java as a threat because the technology would allow software developers to write programs that would run on numerous platforms without being modified. The government says Microsoft's alleged attempts to thwart cross-platform Java violate antitrust laws.

    Burt also confronted Gosling with internal documents detailing his company's partnership with Netscape, the first company to license Java.

    In one, an email message discussing "key items for agreement" with Netscape, Sun marketing manager Karen Oliphant listed as one of the goals a wish to "unify browser efforts [and] stop competing."

    In another email message sent in February 1997 to Sun chief executive Scott McNealy and other top executives, Bill Joy, the company's vice president, outlines objectives in striking a new partnership with Netscape.

    Among the things Joy wanted from Netscape: "Stop being paranoid about Hotjava," a reference to a browser Sun was developing but never marketed. Seeking to deflect claims made earlier in the case that Microsoft sought to divide the browser market with Netscape, Burt seized on the evidence, which also included a deposition taken of Joy in the private lawsuit between Sun and Microsoft.

    Does the evidence "refresh your recollection [that Mr. Joy] convinced you not to pursue a desktop browser because of the license with Netscape?" Burt asked.

    "He never convinced me of any such thing," Gosling shot back. "We had a Hotjava product that we never released."

    Burt's suggestion that Sun and Netscape agreed to divide the browser market is reminiscent of claims Microsoft made earlier in the trial that Netscape and America Online engaged in similar acts.

    Burt's cross-examination appears aimed at proving that hopes of a cross-platform Java were dashed long before Microsoft built its Java products. But Microsoft's claims that cross-platform Java was not viable seemed to contradict videotaped testimony from the company's chairman Bill Gates shown yesterday, in which he said he viewed the technology as a threat to Windows. Burt, who is Microsoft's associate general counsel, has led the company's legal strategy in the separate private lawsuit with Sun.

    Speaking outside the courthouse during a noon recess, David Boies, the lead prosecutor for the Justice Department, said Microsoft's arguments today were irrelevant to the case.

    "The core of this trial is consumer choice and the premise is that consumers ought to make that decision, not Microsoft," Boies said. "Microsoft's argument that says Java would have died anyway is a little bit like saying if somebody shoots you they can defend [themselves] by saying you have cancer."

    Boies also rejected Microsoft's accusation that Sun and Netscape agreed not to compete, saying that even if the allegation were true, Hotjava never had the market share for such an action to be anticompetitive.

    "Both as a matter of fact and as a mater of law, the 'everybody-else-does-it' defense really doesn't work here," Boies added.

    But Mark Murray, speaking after court recessed for the day, said the partnership between Sun and Netscape "was further demonstration that throughout the software industry, companies meet together, they plan together, they talk about ways to work together on complementary technologies." He added the government had an "unfair double standard" for painting Microsoft's same behavior with Netscape in June 1995 as an attempt to divide the browser market.

    Twice during today's proceedings, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson admonished Burt, once for "arguing" with Gosling and the other for asking "cumulative" or repetitive questions. Both times the judge instructed Burt to move on. Jackson has displayed impatience with Microsoft's legal team on a number of occasions, and also referred to Gates as not being "particularly responsive" in videotaped testimony.

    Gosling's cross-examination is expected to last until at least Wednesday. Proceedings will not be held tomorrow or Monday. When trial reconvenes on Tuesday, David Farber, a professor of telecommunications, is expected to take the stand. He is testifying out of order because of a scheduling conflict.