Java ruling stuns Microsoft

Sun Microsystems may have won a landmark preliminary decision against Microsoft to bar the vendor from selling products using incompatible Java technology. However, local Microsoft officials and developers say it's still business as usual.

In issuing a preliminary injunction to Microsoft last week, San Jose district court judge Ronald Whyte read the riot act to the vendor, giving it 90 days to modify its products to comply with Sun's compatibility tests or face the prospect of having to pull its Java-based software from the market, pending the outcome of the forthcoming trial.

Judge Whyte granted the injunction based on the assertion that Sun is "likely to prevail on the merits" of its lawsuit over the Java language.

Sun sued Microsoft in October 1997 alleging it violated the terms of the Java licensing agreement by delivering products that are incompatible with Sun's Java specifications.

"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," said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software division in the US. Claiming that Microsoft is the only vendor "out of compliance", Baratz nevertheless emphasised that the ruling allows "Microsoft to rejoin the Java community".

However, Microsoft's group vice president for platforms and applications, Paul Maritz, indicated they might go the opposite way and remove Java from its Windows 98, Internet Explorer 4.0 and Microsoft Java software development kit altogether.

"Clearly we are disappointed with Whyte's findings, but we respect the order and are assessing what we need to do," Maritz said.

At the moment, it is unclear if the injunction will have any ramifications for Microsoft's non-US operations, including Australia, as Microsoft has 15 days to respond to the ruling and announce how it intends to comply with the judge's order.

What is certain, according to Matt Mizerak, Microsoft Australia's marketing director, is that Microsoft "will follow the same policy worldwide and will definitely comply with the injunction".

"We have a commitment to support Java and we will continue to do that," Mizerak said.

Meanwhile, the Australian developer and Java user communities were alive with speculation on the possible impact of the injunction.

According to Matt Sinclair, senior consultant at Sydney-based high-tech development house Indigo, if Microsoft pulls Java completely from Win98/NT/IE, "about 50 per cent of the browser market will no longer support the latest version of Java and it is unclear at the moment if Sun's 'Java Plug In' can fill this gap".

"As far as the server side is concerned, there will be little impact, because almost no one is using Microsoft technology in that area," Sinclair said.