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Did Microsoft kneecap Java, judge asks

Tonya Harding school of business

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Was it kneecapping or bad execution and inferior technology that saw Sun Microsystems Inc's Java technology displaced from Windows by archrival Microsoft Corp?

That was the key question during the third day of legal hearings in Sun's private antitrust action against Microsoft yesterday, as a US Judge compared Microsoft's behavior to the infamous 1994 kneecapping of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan arranged by competitor Tonya Harding.

"Isn't there a societal value in being able to participate in a market undistorted by anticompetitive acts," district court judge Fredrick Motz asked yesterday.

Motz's question was addressed to Microsoft witness Kevin Murphy, University of Chicago economist, who said the Java "must carry" remedy couldn't be justified economically.

Sun's $1bn plus legal action seeks to compel Microsoft to distribute a Sun-compatible implementation of its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) with the Windows operating system, among other remedies.

Santa Clara, California-based Sun claims Microsoft attempted to kill the Java market by distributing its own incompatible JVM implementation and by choking distribution points, through its control of Windows.

However, Microsoft produced an internal Sun e-mail written by Java creator and company vice president James Gosling which said Sun's problems with Java on the client are mostly due to neglect.

"We're really [screwing] up on the client side," Gosling allegedly wrote to Sun vice president of developer tools Richard Green in an e-mail dated May 13, 2002, "mostly through neglect."

Michael Lacovara, attorney for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, tried to get Sun witness Dennis Carlton, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, to admit performance issues may have held back Java and inhibited its ability to compete with Microsoft and the .NET platform.

Lacovara showed a PowerPoint document bearing Sun's logo labeled "What needs to be done" with a subheading "We are still not competitive vs Microsoft." Sun's presentation listed the JVM's faults as lack of stability, large footprint and lack of awareness of OEM's product release schedules.

Carlton had earlier testified that the Web services market place is susceptible to "tipping" when one development platform steamrollers another because everyone wants to write for the platform that is most widely distributed. Without the judge's intervention, he said. .NET could trounce Java in the same way that Microsoft's Internet Explorer pushed out competing products.

© ComputerWire

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