Last modified: September 23, 1998 5:00 AM PDT
Microsoft's holy war on Java
After declaring the Java threat a "top priority," Microsoft sought to acquire, invest in, or close deals with several companies to "take mindshare away from Sun," according to internal Microsoft documents. As part of the strategy, the Redmond, Washington, software giant bought DimensionX and sought deals with Metrowerks, Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Fujitsu.
In addition to its acquisition and partner strategy, Microsoft explored ways to talk its most important ally, Intel, into dropping work relating to Java media technology Intel was collaborating on with Sun. In July, citing "changing Java market conditions," the leading chipmaker quietly abandoned work on its Intel JMedia Player, a software developer kit Intel had spent at least 14 months developing.
The moves were part of an aggressive, multipronged strategy to compete against Java, a programming language Sun designed to run on multiple computer platforms. In theory, Java could allow computer users to run Web browsers, word processors, and numerous other applications without the need of Windows, a scenario that chairman and chief executive Bill Gates once said "scares the hell out of me," according to email Sun subpoenaed from Microsoft.
According to another Microsoft email message, the overall strategy, which at times sparked internal division among Microsoft executives, included letting the "Java [developer tools] space fragment so that 'write once, run anywhere' does not happen," referring to Sun's slogan for Java. While cross-platform Java products faltered, Microsoft hoped to drive its Windows-dependent Java products "to a broad installed base."
Microsoft, for its part, insists that its strategy violates no laws and is in compliance with the licensing agreement it signed with Sun. Legal experts agree that merely persuading a business partner to drop or alter a project probably would not be a violation.
"Microsoft has to be shown to have intentionally sabotaged [Java's] cross-platform ability," said Rich Gray, an attorney with Bergeson, Eliopoulos, Grady & Gray. Moreover, he said, "it's got to be they did it to protect their monopoly" in operating systems--a formal status that has yet to be proven in court.
However, the evidence provides a rare look at the intensity of Microsoft's competitive practices, which has been widely criticized by industry rivals and consumer advocates. The new details come as public scrutiny of Microsoft's Java strategy appears to be growing.
"Microsoft is hurting Java developers most by closing the door on Java compatibility in their Web browser," said Rick Ross, president and founder of JavaLobby, a trade group that represents 25,000 independent developers. A Java developer himself, Ross said in an interview that he has been in regular contact with antitrust enforcers investigating the firm.
Microsoft's Java strategy has gained nearly equal footing with allegations that the software giant sought to freeze Netscape Communications out of the browser market--once the crux of the landmark antitrust case government prosecutors filed in May. Attorneys from the Justice Department (DOJ) and 20 states strengthened their case against Microsoft's Java strategy just weeks after a federal appeals court ruling in June made it more difficult for them to challenge the integration of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Windows operating system.
The company's acquisition strategy was reflected in its purchase of DimensionX in May 1997. As early as February of that year, Microsoft believed that the Java developer was close to being acquired by Sun "to augment their Java Media class effort," evidence in Sun's possession shows. In addition to denying Sun an important ally, Microsoft hoped that the acquisition would hurt Netscape, which was close to making an announcement on "push" technology that involved DimensionX.
According to internal Microsoft email, executives also were concerned about some of Intel's Java projects and explored ways to get the chipmaker to scale them back. In early 1997, one Microsoft executive pinpointed Intel's work on Java multimedia technology as "the area of most contention [between the two companies] since Intel does not see their work with Sun and others as bad for the overall PC space, only as good for Intel." Over the coming days, another Microsoft executive continued "to engage" Intel on the matter, encouraging it to curtail the work, or at the very least to carry it out "less visibly."
In 1996 and 1997, Intel was working with Sun on several Java-related projects, including a Java Media Framework, which would allow programmers on numerous platforms to use unified specifications for adding sound and graphics to Java applications. As early as mid-1996, the chip giant began work on its JMedia Player, a software development kit that optimized the Java Media Framework for the Intel platform.
Two months ago, Intel quietly killed the project, disclosing in a little-noticed press release that it was discontinuing development of JMedia Player "due to changing Java market conditions."
An Intel spokesman declined to discuss the specific reasons for discontinuing its JMedia Player. "We don't want to elaborate [on the press release] because it would tend to give us a position in the dispute [between the government and Microsoft] where we haven't had a position and where we don't plan to take a position," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)
A Sun representative confirmed only that the company is no longer working with Intel on any projects related to Java multimedia. "We haven't done any work with [Intel] on media specifications for several months," said the spokeswoman, who declined to speculate on a reason for Intel's decision to drop the collaboration.
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