Microsoft Ordered to Comply with Sun Java

In a move that could have implications for the future of the AS/400, a federal judge in Seattle ordered Microsoft to conform to Sun Microsystems’ Java standards or pull its Java products off the market.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte banned the sale of any Microsoft products that use Java – including Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4.0 – within 90 days of the Nov. 17 ruling unless Microsoft modifies the software to pass Sun’s compatibility tests. Software that’s already shipped is not affected by the ruling.

The ruling could be a boon to the AS/400, whose long-term fortunes are linked to the success of Java.

“It’s a moral victory for the Java camp,” says Lori McCabe, service director at Boston-based Summit Strategies. “In the short term, it’s not going to have a big effect on the AS/400 and other Java platforms. But over the long term, as this whole thing plays out, as the developer community starts getting a sense that more will be done to level the playing field, it could have an impact on the AS/400.”

Sun filed the lawsuit against Microsoft last year, alleging that Microsoft violated its 1996 Java license agreement by changing the Java code in its software and development tools, thus making it incompatible with the version of Java it licensed from Sun.

Java is founded upon a “write once, run anywhere” philosophy, meaning that applications written in Java can run on any Java-enabled platform. Sun accused Microsoft of undermining that promise by establishing its own version of Java that would only run in a Windows environment and locking out other Java applications from Windows.

Judge Whyte apparently agreed, saying that he issued the injunction because Sun was “likely to prevail on the merits” of the lawsuit.

McCabe says many developers are reluctant to commit to the Sun/IBM version of Java that the AS/400 runs if Microsoft creates its own version. “The developer community thought Java might be the Holy Grail. You can write once and run anywhere and not worry about the operating system or the platform. Microsoft basically changed that rule by coming out with their own version of Java that only runs under their operating systems. Developers are waiting to see which Java wins out because they want to be where the business is,” she says.

In a statement, Microsoft announced that it would comply with the ruling by supporting Sun’s Java Native Interface (JNI) in its Java virtual machine and turning off certain Microsoft-specific Java keywords in its development tools.

However, Tom Burt, associate general counsel at Microsoft, cautions in the statement that it was only a preliminary ruling and Microsoft was reviewing its legal options.

“The Court has confirmed Microsoft’s right to modify and improve the Java technologies it licensed from Sun, but has preliminarily determined that Microsoft may have overstepped the limitations of our license from Sun in a couple of respects in giving programming choices to Java developers,” Burt says.

The statement goes on to say that Microsoft “remains confident” that once all the facts are presented in the case, it will be seen to be in compliance with its Java license agreement.

Microsoft is also battling the federal government and 20 states in another lawsuit over accusations that it competed illegally against Netscape in a bid to dominate the Web browser software market and has used illegal means to maintain a monopoly in market for PC operating systems.

"There’s so many [legal] things going on with Microsoft right now," says McCabe. "Some of it may be favorable to Java in general and the AS/400 as a result."