Sun Microsystems won a key victory in its antitrustsuit against rival Microsoft Monday, when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that requires the Redmond, Wash.-based software titan to include a Java Virtual Machine, or JVM in its Windows XP operating system.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant filed suit against Microsoft in the United States District Court in San Jose in March, citing the company’s “monopoly position” Microsoft’s failure to support Java in Windows XP. Sun asked for more than $1 billion in damages and that Microsoft be required to distribute Sun’s current binary implementation of the Java plug-in as part of Windows XP and Internet Explorer.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, based in Baltimore, said he would approve Sun’s request for a preliminary injunction requiring Microsoft to support Java though he said he would first work out the details with both companies’ lawyers.
In his opinion, Motz indicated that he was likely to resolve the case with the “elegantly simple remedy” of requiring Microsoft’s support of Java.
“I further find it is an absolute certainty that unless a preliminary injunction is entered, Sun will have lost forever its right to compete, and the opportunity to prevail, in a market undistorted by its competitor’s antitrust violations,” Motz wrote.
“In the final analysis, the public interest in this case rests in assuring that free enterprise be genuinely free, untainted by the effects of antitrust violations,” Motz said. He added, “Competition is not only about winning the prize; its deeper value lies in giving all those who choose to compete an opportunity to demonstrate their worth.”
He also wrote, “Microsoft has succeeded, through its antitrust violations, in creating an environment in which the distribution of Java on PCs is chaotic. The ‘must-carry’ remedy Sun proposes is designed to prevent Microsoft from obtaining future advantage from its past wrongs and to correct distortions in the marketplace that its violations of antitrust laws have created.”
When the injunction takes effect, it will hold force while the case works its way through trial or settlement. Microsoft said it will consider an appeal of the injunction.
Roots of the Dispute
This is the second time around for Microsoft and Sun on this particular issue. In January 2001, Microsoft settled the original suit brought by Sun to the tune of $20 million. Sun initiated that lawsuit in 1997. It stemmed from an agreement the two companies made in 1996, when Microsoft obtained a license from Sun to use the Java technology, with the stipulation that Microsoft would deliver only compatible implementations of the technology.
Following the agreement, Microsoft used the Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1.4, a version that had long been superceded, thus ensuring Windows-only compatibility. Sun argued that by making its Java implementation Windows-only, Microsoft violated the terms of the license.
As part of the settlement, Sun gave Microsoft the right to continue using the outdated JDK for seven years, though Microsoft made no commitment to do so.
As a result, in July 2001, Microsoft decided not to include a JVM in Windows XP.
“It comes down to the settlement agreement,” Yankee Group Analyst Neal Goldman said at the time. “On the one hand, you could say, ‘gee, Microsoft is attempting to keep people from using Java on Windows and this is sort of an exclusionary tactic.’ I think that’s probably not true. Because of the settlement agreement with Sun, they can’t ship current or new versions of Java. If my choices were to ship nothing or an old version, I would ship nothing.”
That was the tack Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla took when explaining Microsoft’s decision in July 2001.
Pilla said at the time that making the Microsoft JVM downloadable rather than shipping it with Windows XP helped the company abide by the terms of its settlement with Sun.
“We’re still supporting our JVM,” Pilla said. “We’re just not going to include the JVM in XP…Everyone that wants Java support in Windows XP will get it.”
Pilla also noted, “PC manufacturers are free to install the Microsoft JVM before they ship.” He added that IT managers will also be able to make the decision to install the JVM on computers, and that anyone who upgrades to XP from a previous Windows operating system will retain their Microsoft JVM.
Microsoft also noted at the time that if Windows XP users came upon sites that required Java, Internet Explorer would ask the users if they wished to download a JVM. Microsoft later changed its position, deciding to include a JVM in a Windows XP update until 2004, after which it would drop it.
In a prepared statement Monday, Mike Morris, Sun vice president and special counsel, said, “This decision is a huge victory for consumers who will have the best, latest Java technology on their PCs, and it is a victory for software developers who will write applications to run on those PCs. The decision helps ensure that current, compatible Java technology will be included on every consumer desktop and put an end to Microsoft’s practice of fragmenting the Java platform.
“This decision changes the dynamics of the distribution channel for the Java technology. It’s a victory for the Java Community, including developers, consumers and system vendors. Sun and its partners are working to make the best and latest Java technology available worldwide to anyone who wants it – for free.
“The preliminary injunctions we sought are intended to temporarily address some of the damage that Microsoft has inflicted until a full trial can be conducted. The full trial will include this and all of the other antitrust claims that Sun has brought against Microsoft.”