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Evidence may weaken Sun case against Microsoft

Newly released court documents show bickering over Java.

October 23, 1998
Web posted at: 1:30 PM EDT

by James Niccolai

(IDG) -- Previously sealed documents released late Wednesday by a U.S. District Court reveal evidence that's potentially harmful to Sun Microsystems' lawsuit against Microsoft over Java technology.

In one of five briefs unsealed by the court, an executive in Sun's JavaSoft division expresses concern that "Microsoft was smarter than us" when it negotiated its Java licensing contract with Sun.

"What I find most annoying is that no one at Sun saw this coming. I don't think our folks who negotiated and agreed to these terms understood at the time what they meant," wrote David Spenhoff, director of product marketing in Sun's JavaSoft division, according to a brief filed by Microsoft.

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Sun downplayed the relevance of Spenhoff's remarks. Spenhoff played no part in negotiating Microsoft's licensing contract, and has had no legal training, said spokesperson Lisa Poulson.

Jarred by Java

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates felt so threatened by Java's potential to disrupt Microsoft's dominance in the software market that he admitted "this scares the hell out of me," according to documents filed by Sun.

Ben Slivka, the head of Microsoft's Java development team, described an encounter with Gates that Sun says highlights the depth of concern within Microsoft about Java's potential. "He just jumped all over me, accusing me of trying to destroy Windows. He was amazingly, unnecessarily rude to me," Slivka said, according to court documents.

Elsewhere in court documents, a senior Microsoft vice president is quoted as saying, "[W]ithout something to pollute Java more to Windows (more cool features that are only in Windows) we expose ourselves to more portable code on other platforms."

The disclosures appear in filings related to Sun's request for a preliminary injunction against Microsoft; hearings on the request concluded Sept. 10. Sun is charging that Microsoft violated its Java licensing contract and released "impure" Java products into the market in a bid to derail Sun's Java movement.

In a brief opposing Sun's motion for a preliminary injunction, Microsoft claims that "[Sun's] motion is based on a record consisting largely of redacted e-mail soundbites, hyperbole, and speculative opinions" which bear little relation to its licensing agreement with Sun.

The release of the previously sealed documents paves the way for District Court Judge Ronald Whyte to rule on Sun's request for a preliminary injunction. Whyte previously indicated that he would prefer not to rule until all documents from the hearing that could be made public had been released.

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