September 30, 1998 10:10 PM PDT

Sun exec held MS view of Java deal

Executives from Sun Microsystems agreed with Microsoft's reading of a licensing contract at the heart of their bitter legal battle until a Sun superior told the company's employees to disregard the document, an attorney for Microsoft argued.

The attorney also alleged that Sun was out to "kill" Microsoft when it collaborated in a "gang of four" with Netscape Communications, Oracle, and IBM in a scheme to unleash a Java-based operating system.

Part of previously confidential court exchanges between lawyers for Sun and Microsoft, the allegations were released today in a transcript of a September 10 hearing that was closed to the public. The details, which include previously unreleased evidence reported last week by CNET News.com, appear to provide support for both sides in their dispute.

Microsoft's aggressive Java strategy Among other unearthed evidence is an internal Microsoft document that suggests executives recognized that "cross-platform capability is by far the No. 1 reason for choosing/using Java" and responded by "tying [its own implementation] back to Windows."

What's more, Redmond executives recognized that among customers "there is distrust with Microsoft's commitment to Java," and that among all the various Java toolkits on the market, Microsoft's product, then called VJ, had the lowest percentage of customers committed to using it.

Predictably, representatives from both Sun and Microsoft played up evidence favorable to their sides. Sun spokeswoman Lisa Poulson said the document "absolutely [shows] Microsoft's intention to kill cross-platform Java and grow the polluted Java market," referring to several internal email messages exchanged among Redmond executives. "The evidence really does speak for itself in terms of what the intent was."

Meanwhile, Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said the collaboration with Netscape, Oracle, and IBM demonstrates Sun's true game plan. "Their whole strategy of what Java was about was to kill Windows and to kill Microsoft," he said.

But once Microsoft developed an implementation that competed with Sun's, Sun began "trying to change a contract that specifically allowed us to do this," Cullinan added.

Arguing before U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose, California, Microsoft attorney Karl Quackenbush called attention to a number of "smoking guns." Among them were internal documents suggesting that Sun's own executives believed the contested Java licensing contract gave Microsoft complete freedom to design its Java native interface, or JNI, as the company saw fit.

"When Sun's executives were trying to figure out what the contract meant and studied it, they read it the same way that Microsoft does," Quackenbush argued. He went on to contend that the president of Sun's JavaSoft division, Alan Baratz, later "sent an email that said, 'You all ought to stop reading this contract,' and apparently they did."

Quackenbush added that in a separate email message, Sun product manager David Spenhoff "read [the contract] to understand that [Sun] had no control over native methods."

Quackenbush also outlined a plan Sun allegedly drew up to "kill" Microsoft. He cited another email message from Spenhoff that expresses "Sun's fundamental belief that it will be Java that kills Microsoft." He referred to a document prepared by Sun cofounder Bill Joy, in which Joy "drew a big circle and he wrote 'Wintel' in it...and he drew a big line through it, and he wrote the year 2000."

"The strategy for Sun is not about choice," Quackenbush argued. "The strategy for Sun is not about competing operating systems. It is a Java operating system running on a Java chip with Java applications. All controlled by Sun."

Wintel refers to the tacit partnership of Microsoft's Windows operating system and Intel's microprocessors. Nearly all PC software is written for the platform, giving Microsoft tremendous influence over the industry. A "cross-platform" programming language like Java that enables software to run on numerous operating systems would naturally be a threat.

Java chips are processors that have been optimized for the Java language. Generic versions are called "embedded" processors, and are typically found in advanced cell phones, set-top boxes, and handheld computers, among other devices. Although Java chips do not directly compete with Intel products, as consumer electronic devices take on more sophisticated computing functions, the Java chip's rivalry with Intel architecture processors could become more pronounced.

In rebuttal, Sun attorney Lloyd "Rusty" Day said Microsoft never intended to license and distribute Java. Instead, he contended, Microsoft first sought to "fragment the [Java] space and then distribute" a Microsoft-specific version with each copy of Windows sold. "That's the way to make it ubiquitous and get it out in the market as fast as possible," Day said, citing internal Microsoft documents seized in the case.

To ensure Microsoft's implementation took hold, executives planned initially to "give away the Java" virtual machine and then to charge royalties only "once it became ubiquitous," Day argued.

Day also confirmed that Java prompted fierce internal battles within Microsoft and that the potential that it might undermine the software giant's dominant position "scared the hell" out of chairman and chief executive Bill Gates. Citing other internal Microsoft evidence, Day contended that executives declared that "Java is our destiny."

The new evidence seems to provide each side with ammunition to make its case. If Sun can prove Microsoft intended to use its dominant position to thwart Java's "write once, run anywhere" promise by "fragmenting" and "polluting" the language, it may be able to make the case that the software giant competed unfairly.

On the other hand, the evidence also may help Microsoft prevail. The JNI issue is a major sticking point in the contract dispute between the two companies. Evidence that helps Microsoft to establish Sun's belief that the license did not cover JNI could be favorable to its arguments, particularly in light of Whyte's comment that he views the case as a contractual matter.

 

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