Users say market, not court, will decide Java winner
January 28, 1999
by Kim S. Nash
(IDG) -- After 15 months of courtroom bickering between Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. over the Java programming language, users are impatient but haven't slowed their Java plans. Users -- not a judge -- will decide which vendor ultimately "wins" the Java race, they said.
"With the amount of investment companies have made [in Java], whether Sun or Microsoft wins [in court] is inconsequential. The market will decide," said Manu Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org), the founder of PittJUG, a Java user group in Pittsburgh.
U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte has said Sun is likely to win the case as a whole. Yet the lawsuit shows no signs of coming to an end. No trial date has been set, and several other items in the case remain unresolved.
For example, Whyte last month asked Sun and Microsoft to hold a mediation conference to try to come to terms on at least one narrow issue: Microsoft's compliance with Sun's Java Native Interface. But the vendors have yet to agree on who should mediate, never mind when to meet.
Sun sued Microsoft for allegedly breaking its Java contract by writing language extensions that can run only on Windows.
So far, Sun has won two key rulings: Last March, Microsoft had to stop using the Java logo, and in November, Microsoft was ordered to revamp its Java products to comply with Sun's specifications (see chart). Microsoft is gradually redoing some products. Last week, it made available a free service pack for Visual Studio that it claims brings the tool kit into compliance. But Microsoft has appealed the November order, arguing the judge made several legal mistakes and misread the Java license agreement.
A Microsoft spokesman noted that "these are preliminary orders, not final rulings. Microsoft must have the right to innovate and improve our products."
No settlement seen
The chance that Microsoft will settle the case "is about as likely as Bill Clinton resigning," said Cynthia Jeness (email@example.com), an officer at the Atlanta Java Users Group.
Mike Morris, Sun's general counsel, said he's "very happy" with how the case has gone so far.
The legal dispute to date hasn't deterred Java users, nor will it, observers said.
Information technology programmers are more likely than third-party developers to use Microsoft's Windows-specific extensions, said Ron Rappaport, an analyst at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. That's because their companies often dictate which products they can use.
"Businesspeople are so concerned with safety, and going with Microsoft is like how going with IBM was in late 1970s," Jeness said.
That's the case for PittJUG members Aluminum Company of America and Mellon Bank Corp., Kumar said.
At Service Merchandise Co. Inc. in Brentwood, Tenn., programmers mainly use Java tools from NetDynamics Inc., which Sun acquired in July. But the retailer also employs some Microsoft products "to keep [us] familiar with both" approaches, said Robin Solomon, manager of PC application development.
The suit hasn't stopped many users from buying Java tools -- Microsoft's or otherwise, Rappaport said. And even if Microsoft loses to Sun and is found to have sold tools that violate its Java contract, Microsoft customers aren't going to rewrite applications built with the offending products, he said. "The reality is, [IT people] can't reverse-engineer a year's worth of development simply because a court makes a decision," he said.
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