Microsoft, Sun settle Java suit

Microsoft Corp. today agreed to settle a 1997 lawsuit over Java, Sun Microsystem Inc.'s programming language designed to run on any operating platform.

By agreeing to pay $20 million to Sun, Microsoft closes an ugly chapter in the legal wrangling over Java technology. The settlement was announced in separate statements issued late today by Microsoft and Sun.

Sun alleged in its lawsuit that Microsoft had violated terms of its licensing agreement for Java technology by modifying the Java programming language so as to make it impossible to run on anything but a Windows operating system.

With today's settlement, Microsoft can continue to ship all current products and those in beta-testing that contain Sun's technology for a period of seven years. Microsoft also agreed not to use Sun's Java Compatible trademark, which it has not done since 1998.

"Back in 1997-98, Sun was concerned that they were losing the popularity of Java and decided to compete through the legal system," said Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan. "Sun had been smothering Java to keep control over it. We think that was wrong and believe our implementation of Java was what developers wanted."

Rich Green, vice president and general manager of Java Software for Sun, put the settlement in a different light. "What Microsoft did was to try and obtain technology so that they would capture developers," he said. "It is part of their embrace-and-extend approach, and we take a hard line about this. Web and network computing are based around standards and interoperability. Now if Microsoft wants to use Java, they will have to use the same Java everyone else does. It makes it clear, if developers want to continue using Java, Microsoft's implementation is not the path."

While settlement of the suit may clarify issues for Java users, in practical terms it does little to alter the environment of multiple programs and platforms. Michael Dortch, a principal at The Robert Frances Group, a Westport, Conn.-based IT and business consultancy, said, "The critical issue remaining on the table is true interoperability as it matters to users, enterprise IT executives and developers. And to the extent that those three constituencies continue to have to support parallel environments and are unable to write each application once and deploy it across multiple platforms with equal ease, nothing about this reported settlement matters."

The competitive tone of both sides also doesn't appear to advance the consolidation of Java with Windows-centric enhancements. Indeed, Green reiterated that Java had taken over the world of application servers and Web application servers and that Microsoft is confronted with the issue of not having "a real Java to ship." Even the company's new Internet initiative, .Net, "is still a Miscrosoft proprietary system," he noted.

Microsoft's Cullinan countered that C#, Microsoft's programming language designed for XML-based Web services on the .Net, platform is the kind of innovation the lawsuit was holding back. "This allows us to do independent things," he said.

Dortch disagreed. "Developers and enterprise IT executives still have to write and support one Windows program and one for everything else."

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