Tech Industry

Sun opposes Microsoft Java appeal

Sun tells a federal appeals court that a judge acted properly in ordering Microsoft to modify its operating system and browser products so that they are compatible with Java.

A federal judge acted properly in ordering Microsoft to modify its operating system and Internet browser products so that they are compatible with Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, Sun told a federal appeals court.

"The district court carefully crafted its order prohibiting Microsoft from distributing products that infringe Sun's copyrights to minimize the hardships on Microsoft and the public," Sun attorneys argued in a brief filed yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. "The district court's order displays a keen understanding and appreciation of both the law and the technology at issue."

In November, U.S. District See related story:
Microsoft's holy war on Java Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose, California, ruled that Sun was likely to prevail on copyright and unfair competition claims in its high-profile lawsuit over Microsoft's implementation of Java. Filed in October 1997, the suit accused Microsoft of "sabotaging" Java by adding Windows-dependent extensions, in violation of Microsoft's license.

In his November 18 preliminary injunction, Whyte said Sun was likely to prove at trial that Microsoft's omission of a technology known as JNI, or Java native interface, kept Microsoft's Java from passing compatibility tests required by the license agreement. Whyte ordered Microsoft to add JNI to its Java offerings and to make other modifications to software it designs for Java programmers.

Last month, Microsoft appealed the ruling, arguing that it "grievously harms" computer users and applied incorrect legal standards. Specifically, Microsoft argued, Whyte incorrectly relied on copyright standards to justify his ruling, instead of applying more stringent breach-of-contract standards. Microsoft also argued that the judge misinterpreted Microsoft's Java licensing contract.

Sun, however, defended the injunction to the appeals court, arguing that the record supports Whyte's decision.

"The court should decline Microsoft's invitation to substitute its judgment for the district court's," Sun's brief argued.

It went on to defend Whyte's finding that Sun was likely to prove that Microsoft engaged in unfair competition. "The record supports the district court's finding that Microsoft engaged in restrictive licensing practices designed to force others to use its incompatible Java products only and made false and misleading statements about its products," the brief argued.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan, however, maintained that the company's appeal was justified.

"We respectfully believe that the court erred in its ruling on several different issues," Cullinan said. "We believe that we have offered developers and consumers choice and better products and we look forward to the opportunity to make our case."

Microsoft's Java strategy is Microsoft's day in court a key element in the antitrust trial now pending in federal court in Washington. The Justice Department and 19 states allege that Microsoft thwarted the technology to illegally maintain the software giant's alleged monopoly in operating systems. Microsoft denies the charge.

In theory, Java would allow software developers to run their applications on numerous computer platforms without being modified. Currently many developers write programs that run on Windows only, because it is not worth the expense of writing for less popular platforms.

Whyte's preliminary injunction, which is in effect only until there is a final outcome in the case, contradicts a key Microsoft defense in the antitrust trial--that its actions with respect to Java are allowed by the plain language of the license. A ruling that Microsoft's was within its contractual rights to add proprietary extensions to Java could prove fatal to the government's Java claims.

Microsoft recently asked Whyte to clarify whether his order applies to independently developed Java products, such as those developed in so-called clean rooms, or those based on specifications published by Sun. There is no indication when Whyte might respond to Microsoft's request.