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Sun-Microsoft Rivalry Heats Up With Java Settlement

The legal battle between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft about Java is over, but the companies immediately made it clear that settlement of the case won’t lead to some new era of good feeling between the bitter IT rivals.

“Microsoft has proven time and time again that it is unwilling to abide by the common rules of the Internet,” declared Patricia Sueltz, executive vice president of Sun’s software systems groups. “Its behavior with regard to the Java technology was just one instance.”

That statement came from Sun’s official announcement of the settlement agreement in the three-year-old federal case Tuesday night. Such statements are usually a place where companies either make nice, having avoided trial, or stick to dry legalese.

Microsoft was busy spinning the settlement, too.

“Sun’s stranglehold on Java has just been bad for Java and bad for developers,” Microsoft spokesman James Cullinan shot back.

The settlement, Cullinan said, “in the end is a loss for Java developers and the Java language. I think that having a hardware company like Sun dictating the development of the Java language and the Java technology has been bad for developers and bad for the industry.”

Under terms of the agreement, Microsoft will pay Sun $20 million and refrain from using the Java Compatible trademark. Sun agrees to license the rights to Microsoft to distribute the 1.1.4 version of Java in existing products for seven years. The most current Java Developers Kit is version 1.3.

The settlement protects two major product areas for Microsoft, the Visual J++ 6.0 development language and the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which is distributed in Internet Explorer 5.5 and versions of the Windows operating system.

Being tied to support of an older version of the Java specification isn’t as bad as it sounds, according to Tony Goodhew, a product manager in Microsoft’s developer division. “If you look in terms of what’s happening in client-side Java, almost 100 percent that you as a user would run or touch using Internet Explorer is JDK 1.1.4.”

Microsoft can continue to ship Visual J++ 6.0, but is restrained under the agreement from further customizing it. In practical terms, the company will be able to include Visual J++ 6.0 as a separate CD when it ships Visual Studio.NET, but no .NET version of Visual J++ will be developed nor will a Visual J++ compiler be created for .NET.

Components built out of Visual J++ can interoperate with .NET, however, Goodhew notes.

The settlement essentially wraps up the Java issue in time for the next big Microsoft v. Sun developer battle for the hearts and minds of Web developers.

Sun plans to introduce its strategy for taking on Microsoft’s .NET strategy in early February. – Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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