Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy took the stage at the GartnerGroup ITxpo and, as usual, came out swinging against Microsoft - but this time the barbs had bite and were backed by a lawsuit.
Users came away from the charged session with mixed emotions. Some cheered Sun's move to draw a line in the sand regarding the 100-percent pure Java concept, while others feared a full-blown Microsoft-Sun battle will cloud Java's future.
As expected, most of the question and answers between McNealy and GartnerGroup analysts in front of an audience of thousands of Gartner clients involved the suit filed by Sun charging Microsoft with breach of its Java licensing contract.
"This is not something we wanted to do," McNealy said. "I think, in the 15 years since we started Sun, we've never taken this kind of legal action."
Sun tried negotiating into the evening hours a week ago Sunday, McNealy said, suggesting that the lawsuit was a last resort.
"We tried for many, many months to try and get Microsoft to toe the line and finally, with Internet Explorer 4.0, they shipped a product that was logo-ed Java compatible, and when we ran it through the test suites it did not pass the test suites," McNealy explained.
McNealy said the company waited until Microsoft shipped the final version of Internet Explorer 4.0 before taking legal action, since Microsoft was continually putting in and taking out pieces of the Java technology, confusing Sun as to what it would finally ship.
"There were parts missing and there were some other things added to it that make it very clearly a non-compatible product from a Java compatibility perspective, and this was in clear violation of their contract," he said.
According to McNealy, Microsoft would like Java to be a simply a programming language, "but Java is much more than that - Java is a platform, which they don’t like," he said.
Java represents a threat to Microsoft, McNealy said. There are now some 700,000 Java programmers pushing for 100% pure Java applets running the Java Virtual Machine, which "doesn't lock anyone into their platforms," McNealy said. "I think this is a little like Kleenex being disappointed that there's a cure for the common cold."
Specifically, Microsoft did two main things to make the version of Java in IE 4.0 incompatible with 100% pure Java, according to McNealy.
First, Microsoft left out the Java Native Interface and the Remote Method Invocation, which lets Java applets communicate with each other, from the version of JDK 1.1 included in IE 4.0, McNealy said. This means that applets written with the JDK environment and taking advantage of these features won't run on IE 4.0, he said.
In addition, "they went and, actually quite deceptively, changed some of the Java dot classes in the methods and libraries and included Windows methods that are Windows-only. But Microsoft labeled them Java dot classes," McNealy said. A developer looking at these Windows files could make a mistake and use them thinking that they will run on any platform running the Java Virtual Machine, when in fact such applets would run only on Windows, he added.
Fending off questions from GartnerGroup analysts, McNealy defended the idea of calling Java an openly developed environment while at the same time suing a company that tries to extend it.
"Any organisation that owns a trademark has to protect it like crazy," said McNealy, adding that he had a duty to Sun shareholders to file the suit.
He also defended the Sun policy of not turning the Java code over to a standards organisation to manage, since standards bodies such as the OMG "move at the speed of Congress."
Sun also rejects Microsoft's method of developing Windows compatibility with platforms from third-party developers by negotiating "secret" deals with them, McNealy said.
However, in a press conference after his talk on stage, McNealy said that many of the 116 Java licenses Sun has signed with licensees have slight differences, although he declined to discuss the specific accommodations allowed in the deal struck with Microsoft. He said, however, that whatever those accommodations were, Microsoft has clearly violated the terms of the license.
In general, Sun's position is to have open development strategy sessions with third-party developers, even using some code third-party developers write, but to act as "tie-breaker" when arguments arise concerning what to include or leave out of the Java code base, McNealy said.
In the press conference after his talk, McNealy appeared willing to work with Microsoft out of court to more quickly expedite the matter.
"I think Microsoft needs to sit down and talk about settling this with us," McNealy said.
GartnerGroup analysts professed not to be surprised by the suit.
"I think both parties knew they would end up in court over this because they have had very different opinions about the way things should go," said Dave Smith, research director of Internet Strategies for the GartnerGroup.
"If Sun kept adding features to Java that turned it into an OS, then Microsoft would have to host an entire operating system in Windows. So they decided to draw the line in the sand now," said Scott Winkler, vice president and research director at Gartner. "There is a lot at stake here. If Microsoft wins, then Sun will lose big. If Sun wins, then Microsoft loses big. This suit is a big deal," Winkler said.
Microsoft's Bill Gates, during his turn on the Gartner stage yesterday, blasted what he said was Sun's move to label Java a standard without turning over management of its development to a standards body.
Some attendee comments on the lawsuit here reflected those criticisms.
"Sun is trying to have its cake and eat it too," said Rolando Mabalay, a computer technology consultant with Deloitte & Touche in Toronto. "If they want to make Java a standard, don't turn around and sue a company trying to add extensions. If it's their trademark product they should say so."
But Sun's move resonated with several users who fear that Microsoft is undermining Java's ability to run, unmodified, on any platform that incorporates the Java Virtual Machine.
"On our intranet, we're using mostly Microsoft, but when we start reaching the public through the Internet, we're going to need [Java's] write-once, run-anywhere capability," said Bill Pierpoint, systems development division chief for the County of San Bernardino, California.
"Microsoft is using a stealth strategy with Java, so the lawsuit might be a good thing," said Steve Scott, manager of enterprise system support with Vision Service Plan, an eye care insurance company in Rancho Cordova, California.
Other users who said they support the spirit of the suit also said they are sceptical about its impact.
"I think it's not going to make any difference," said Henry Danzinger, director of information services for Johnson Controls, an automotive supplier in Plymouth, Michigan. "Microsoft will do what their will dictates."
Danzinger added that the potential fragmentation of the Java marketplace will not change his company's strategic view of Java. "We will continue to pick the most open standard," he said.
Other users, however, said the lawsuit will only blur an already politically charged and confusing issue.
"I think it's bad news if you're not a Java user like I am because it adds to the confusion," said Pierre Deschenes, CIO of Groupe Desjardins Assurance in Levis, Canada, which is selecting an email platform in the upcoming days. "With the announcement of this lawsuit, I have to get to my architects to see what criteria they are going to select their products on."
Deschenes said his primary concern is whether Java applications will be Windows NT compliant.
In fact, one developer feared the move could slow Java's momentum.
"Incompatibility is a concern but dissension, or anything that jeopardises Java's momentum is also a concern. I don't want that momentum endangered," said Gene Rooney, president of Sage Solutions., a Java developer in San Francisco. "If Microsoft's commitment, which is wavering as it is, becomes more limited, then Sun should make sure it complies."
Asked during the press conference whether Microsoft could clone Java based on the specifications made public to all developers, McNealy said the contract Microsoft signed would prevent them from doing so.
"If you signed a (licensing) deal, you can't do that," McNealy said.
(Additional reporting was done by Lynda Radosevich, Martin LaMonica and Ed Scannell.)