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MS Java win against Sun leaves much to play for

The unfair competition issue remains, for starters

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MS on Trial It's taken nearly a year for Judge Ronald Whyte to rule on a motion by Sun that Microsoft had breached Sun's Java copyright. After a series of filings and argument, Sun's motion for summary judgement on its third claim for relief has been refused, but Microsoft's cross-motion has been granted. In the interim, Judge Whyte had to consider the evidence from the Microsoft trial in Washington, as well as other pending summary judgement motions. In the present Order, the judge admits that his Order is a turnaround from his May 1999 decision. What it amounts to is that copyright issues in the licence that Sun granted to Microsoft are technically covenants and not limitations on the scope of Microsoft's distribution licence. For once Microsoft was not crowing at what would seem to be a small win - perhaps because its entire legal team is too busy polishing its breakup defence. Sun has issued a brief statement that puts the complex nine-page ruling in context, and notes that the ruling is consistent with the judge's Orders on 24 January in which he denied Sun's motion to reinstate the injunctive relief on the grounds of copyright infringement, but did grant Sun's motion to reinstate preliminary injunctive relief on different grounds - unfair competition. It's a very technical case because of the complexity and imperfections of the Sun Java licence that was negotiated under pressure from Microsoft when it discovered the Internet in December 1995. The Court seems to be in no hurry to finish the case and strong hints have been dropped that Sun and Microsoft should get together and settle the matter out of court. No trial date has yet been set. In view of the situation in the DoJ case, Sun is already clearly the moral winner, but it is another matter as to the extent to which Microsoft has broken the particular terms of Sun's licence. Java is gaining more respectability as Microsoft encounters problems with the security holes in Outlook, as seen with the love bug. This strengthens reasons for using Java rather than Visual Basic for development if better security is required. After all, Java uses a designed-in sandbox security model, while Microsoft leans on trust - and as in so many love affairs, trust is not enough. ®

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