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All's Quiet on the West Coast

All's Quiet on the West Coast

It was April 2, when I first heard the news that Sun and Microsoft had reached a settlement on their long-standing dispute over Java. When I first saw the headline, I honestly thought it was a leftover April Fool's joke, so I ignored it. It was only when I saw the words "Microsoft and Sun settle" in the CNN news banner running across the bottom of my TV screen that I came to realize that this was not a joke! It was only then that I started to think about the implications of having these two belligerents settle their differences. The question that quickly came to mind was: What does this mean for Java?

The cynical side of me wants to believe that Microsoft needed to settle, after all they now have to appeal huge fines and penalties that have been levied against them by the European Commission. Just as they needed Apple in the past, they need Sun now. A sign of healthy competition can only help Microsoft in its own ongoing "anti-trust" battles. Even though a real settlement with the European Commission is still most likely five years away (due to the appeals process), the recent ruling made by the EC would appear to come close enough to Microsoft's settlement with Sun to have real meaning. In fact, it's been clear for many months that the EC was going to rule against Microsoft. The remedy imposed by the courts includes an order for Microsoft to freely provide the information about Windows to others.

The next question is, why would Sun decide to settle? Unlike the government's anti-trust case against Microsoft, Sun had some very compelling evidence. From that aspect it seems reasonable that Sun should win and they did. Though a settlement may have denied Sun their day in court, it also means that they got what they needed from Microsoft - that Microsoft will now bundle updated versions of Java on all of their Windows products. The lesson here is that if you can come to an agreement on your own, why have one imposed upon you?

In the end, what I (as a developer) want to know is what the settlement means for Java. If you look deeper into the settlement, you'll find that Sun has also agreed to license the Windows desktop system communication protocol. Sun has been trying forever to position Java on the desktop; does this mean they will finally be able to get there? Will the use of the Windows communication protocols break Java's WORA guarantee? Not according to a recent blog by James Gosling. In that blog, James goes on to explain that although they can use the technology, it doesn't mean that they will be locked into Windows. So again, this looks like a real win for Sun.

What we have is a mature market that has a strong preference for bundling and, since Microsoft owns the platform, it gets the final word in what goes into that bundle. Although this solves the apparent problem of the distribution of the Java runtime for Sun, does it solve the real problem? Those of us who are distributing Java applications to the desktop know what the answer is: not really. The reason being that just as a Windows application (like the Java VM) is dependent upon having very specific services and versions of the core DLLs available to it, a Java application often requires a very specific version of the Java runtime. As a result, deployment teams are still going to need to distribute the appropriate runtime with their application unless they are willing to spend the time testing it against all possible versions of Java.

There is no doubt that there were a multitude of reasons for Sun and Microsoft to settle, many of which we will never hear. It certainly would be interesting to know what effect (if any) the recent EC ruling had on bringing Microsoft to the table. It would also be interesting to see if this ruling helps Microsoft with the EC ruling. That said, dispensing with the legal distraction can only be a good thing for it will free up a lot of people's time to focus on Java. Now maybe Sun can show the world how to turn lawyers into Java programmers.

More Stories By Kirk Pepperdine

Kirk Pepperdine has more than 10 years of experience in OO technologies. In edition to his work in the area of performance tuning, Kirk has focused on building middleware for distributed applications.

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Most Recent Comments
James Baltimore 05/07/04 12:11:37 PM EDT

I just perused through "All''s Quiet on the West Coast", and I find myself confused as to the relevance of the author''s references concerning Microsoft and the European Commission. I have read information concerning the ruling presented both by the EC and Microsoft. The primary concern of the EC dealt with media players. It did not involve Java as the primary concern, although Sun Microsystems was one of the entities to first file a dispute with the EC against Microsoft. So unless the author is willing to site a specific ruling, the reference to the EC should have been left out of the article.

If we are going to be truly fair concerning technology, the Internet, and corporate entities, then let us do so. The dispute against Microsoft concerning free applications such as web browsers and media players is nitpicking at best. Microsoft provides a free application in Windows, and another company provides a similar free application on the Internet. Where is there a legal requirement that says the user MUST use only Microsoft''s application? Since when did the FREEDOM OF CHOICE fall to the responsibility of Microsoft instead of the end-user?

The author was correct in referring to the Sun-Microsoft settlement in that the amicable agreement might suggest a more co-operative and open(-source) Microsoft in the future. However Sun was undeniably justified in it''s lawsuit due to Microsoft''s negligence in it''s contractual agreement with Sun. From what information I have read thus far from both Sun and Microsoft, the settlement only continues the use of the MS Virtual Machine until 2007. Microsoft''s introduction of the .NET Framework suggests that Microsoft does not intend to incorporate java within it''s platforms in the future.

While my comments are not meant to be disrespectful to the author, they are also not pro Microsoft. I have dealt with both parties over the years, and have openly agreed and disagreed over certain policies. However the inclusion of the EC''s ruling, which I personally find ridiculous on many points since it suggests that the citizens of Europe are both illiterate and unintelligent and I know this to be untrue having have lived in the United Kingdom, is neither relevant or justified concerning the Sun-Microsoft settlement. Whether the future will indeed reveal a brighter tomorrow... only time will tell. Not for Sun Microsystems or Microsoft, but for the end-users, and aren''t we in effect all "end-users"?