Sun is suing Microsoft for breaching its Java licence in the Java VM of Internet Explorer 4.0.
If Sun wins, the company could revoke Microsoft's licence and effectively shut it out of Java development. Alone in the industry, Microsoft would be unable to produce Java tools or VMs, and third-party developers would be forced to choose between Java and Windows.
As predicted in last week's edition of PC Week, Sun moved because it felt "provoked" into taking action. Microsoft is being charged with trademark infringement, false advertising, breach of contract and unfair competition, following the failure of IE 4.0 to pass Sun's Java compatibility tests.
Scott McNealy, Sun's chief executive officer, said he regretted the legal action against Microsoft. "I have no choice," he shrugged. "The risk of not doing anything is far greater (than ignoring Microsoft) ... because it destroys the integrity and validity of every other contract we had with every other Java partner."
McNealy conceded that there was a risk of the case backfiring: "OJ got off".
The suit prompted up a slanging match between the two. Referring to Sun, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, said: "They (Sun) have always hated PCs. They think PCs give people too much freedom, too much power and they campaign against the PC."
Gates also accused Sun of lying. "We do a better job passing those Java tests than Sun or anybody else," he claimed.
The computer industry gave a mixed reaction to the news. Simon Phipps, programme manager at IBM's centre for Java, said: "Unlike Microsoft, we use a standard way to extend Java. Developers are consciously aware of using IBM's proprietary Java classes."
Forrester Research software analyst Ted Schadler, believes companies other than Microsoft would like to see Sun change its Java licensing.
"Sun could throw a kitchen sink (into the Java VM specification) and licensees would have to comply," he claimed. "I believe Oracle and IBM will put pressure on Sun to make Java an open language."
- See Leader, page 34.
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