A US district court yesterday granted Sun Microsystems' request for a preliminary injunction in its Java technology lawsuit against Microsoft, forcing Microsoft to make changes to some of its key software products, according to the judge's order.
District Court Judge Ronald Whyte ruled that Sun is likely to prevail on the merits of the case and ordered Microsoft to make changes to its products within 90 days so that they include a version of Java that will pass Sun's compatibility test suite.
While the injunction is only temporary, it is still significant for Sun because it forces Microsoft to alter its products for at least the duration of the trial, a date for which has not yet been set.
The affected Microsoft products include Windows 98, Internet Explorer 4.0, and Microsoft's Java software development kit.
"We are gratified that the court has granted our request for a preliminary injunction. This is a win for Java, for Java licensees, and for consumers," Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software division, said.
Whyte's 30-page order does not require Microsoft to recall any products that are already in circulation.
But the company may choose to post a software "patch" on its Web site that will allow users to update their Microsoft software to the Sun specification, Paul Maritz, group vice president of Microsoft's platforms and applications group, said.
"We received the judge's order yesterday afternoon and clearly we are disappointed in his findings, but we respect his order and are (assessing) what we need to do," Maritz said.
Not using Java in its products at all is one of the options that the company will consider moving forward, Maritz said.
The judge "left the door open" for Microsoft to extend the 90-day time limit if it can show good cause, and Microsoft does not expect the ruling to interfere with the shipping of any of its products, Maritz said.
"This could create a logistical nightmare for Microsoft if it has to comply in three months with that kind of an order," said Dwight Davis, a US-based analyst with Summit Strategies. "This [applies to] anything shipping with Internet Explorer and its so-called Java technology - and that is just about everything."
However, Davis added that Microsoft, likely to appeal Tuesday's ruling, may have hope.
"[Microsoft] could present a hardship case in court that an appeals court might like," he said.
One option Microsoft could have to avoid Sun's charge that its Java products do not comply is to simply drop the name "Java" from its packaging and marketing materials.
However, Davis pointed out that such a move would create some obvious problems for Visual J++, the company's Java development tool.
Microsoft often boasts that Visual J++ is the most popular Java tool on the market, and that its implementation of the Java Virtual Machine is the industry's fastest.
This is the second preliminary injunction awarded to Sun since it filed its lawsuit against Microsoft in October 1997. In March 1998 the court ordered Microsoft to temporarily stop using the steaming coffee cup Java-compatible logo on its Internet Explorer 4.0 and Software Developer Kit for Java pending the outcome of the trial.
Sun's suit alleges that Microsoft violated the terms of its Java licensing contract by releasing products that are incompatible with Sun's Java specifications. Microsoft did this, according to Sun, because it felt threatened by Java and wanted to disrupt its ability to build software programs that run on any operating system.
Sun filed two motions for preliminary injunction, one based on copyright infringement, and the other based on alleged anti-competitive practices by Microsoft.
In his 30-page order, Whyte agreed in part with Sun's charges that Microsoft behaved anti-competitively when it forced software licensees to exclusively distribute Microsoft's Java technology in order to be allowed to use a "Designed for Windows95/NT" logo on their products.
"The court finds that negotiating for or enforcing the above-mentioned licensing terms constitutes an unfair business practice," Whyte wrote.
Microsoft no longer has that requirement in its licensing contracts, noted Tom Burt, Microsoft associate general counsel. Microsoft does not expect Whyte's order to have a "significant" impact on the US government's antitrust trial underway against the company in Washington, he added.
"Based on the court's analysis we don't expect it to have a significant impact on that case," Burt said.
However, Microsoft's conduct with Java technology is one of the issues being raised in the trial.
Whyte's ruling affects two categories of Microsoft products - its "platform" products, including Windows 98 and Internet Explorer 4.0; and its development tools, including Microsoft's Software Development Kit for Java versions 2.0 and 3.0, and Visual J++ 6.0.
Windows 98 and IE 4.0 have within them a "Java virtual machine," a software program invisible to users that allows those products to run Java applets and applications. It is the Java virtual machine that Microsoft must modify to meet Sun's specifications, Whyte ordered.
Judge Whyte did not order Microsoft to remove additional compiler directives and keyword extensions in its development tools, which are designed to enable developers writing Java applications for Windows to take advantage of features specific to that operating system, such as its multiple font types.
However, the judge ordered that Microsoft make it clearer to developers when they are using the Windows-specific features in Microsoft's Java tools.
"It ensures that developers will be forewarned very clearly whenever they are about to use keywords or directives . . . that will lock them into Microsoft's platform," Sun's Baratz said.
No date for the trial has been set yet.
At trial, Sun will ask for a permanent injunction against Microsoft, and will also seek monetary damages, said Michael Morris, vice president and general counsel of Sun.