U.S. District Judge Fredrick Motz made Christmas come a little early for Santa Clara-based Sun Microsystems when it approved a preliminary injunction on December 23 to force Microsoft to ship the latest version of the Sun Java Virtual Machine (JVM) technology with Internet Explorer and Windows XP.
Sun Microsystems has been seeking more than $1 billion in damages from Microsoft in a lawsuit that began last March, and Judge Motz' ruling clears the way for Sun's legal actions to gain momentum. The initial lawsuit asked the court to force Microsoft to distribute Sun's JVM technology with Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.0 instead of requiring users to download it. The suit also wants Microsoft to disclose proprietary interfaces and unbundle products such as Explorer and .NET.
Will Sun's JVM Remain Relevant?
However, the most important request, from Sun's perspective, was this request for an injunction to make Microsoft distribute the Sun JVM now, while the lawsuit continues. The injunction means that Microsoft can't stonewall the industry movement toward Java by placing obstacles in the way of users' immediate access to Java when they purchase a Windows desktop.
According to Judge Motz, Microsoft must now distribute Java technology from Sun Microsystems in every copy of Windows and Internet Explorer that it ships while the court continues to hear arguments in the suit. The judge's 42 page ruling, which Microsoft has said it will appeal, was based upon Microsoft's monopoly on the PC desktop.
"Unless Sun is given a fair opportunity to compete in a market untainted by the effects of Microsoft's past antitrust violations, there is a serious risk that in the near future the market will tip in favor of [Microsoft]," Motz wrote. "Sun's potential harm is great if the injunction is not granted. Microsoft's potential harm is slight if the injunction is granted."
Ruling Aimed at Remedying Consumer Complaints
However, the primary beneficiaries of this action will undoubtedly be the users of the Windows desktop operating system and Internet Explorer. At first blush, the obstacle that Microsoft placed before users of Internet Explorer 6.0 and Windows XP seems trivial: Downloading and installing the Java Virtual Machine is a one-time process that takes but a few minutes for each desktop. However, for the uninitiated user, the task of finding the appropriate Web site can be daunting, and many users had complained to Web masters that were using Java that their PCs were not functioning properly.
Furthermore, when IE accessed an application that used Java, the browser attempted to use a previous version of the JVM that didn't have all the functionality of the latest Sun Microsystems technology.
Microsoft Virtual Machine
Meanwhile, Microsoft was pushing its own version of a virtual machine for Java, which is based upon back-level technology that has been extended by Microsoft. The Microsoft VM was largely compatible with Sun's, but it was employing Microsoft's famed "embrace and extend" strategy, ultimately aimed at making Sun's technology obsolete in the marketplace.
In addition, the Microsoft VM is also tied to Microsoft's .NET Web Application Server technology, with its own proprietary technology and interfaces. By placing obstacles in a user's access to the Java technology and by supplanting its own, Microsoft has planned to leverage its monopoly on the desktop to make its virtual machine technology the de facto standard, eliminating the competition from Sun.
However, the whole purpose of Sun's JVM technology was to remove operating system barriers, allowing users running different browser technologies to have a common platform upon which to execute Internet-based applications. By comparison, the Microsoft VM is inextricably tied to servers running Microsoft operating systems.
Sun Counters with Lawsuit
When Sun realized the Microsoft threat, it didn't hesitate to litigate. Sun asked the judge to force Microsoft to distribute a Sun-authorized JVM and to discontinue the older Microsoft-modified version currently in distribution. This is exactly what Judge Motz has done, and this preliminary injunction will stand, pending the final outcome of the antitrust lawsuit filed by Sun against Microsoft.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has said it will appeal Judge Motz's decision. "We are disappointed with today's ruling and still need to review the details of the decision," said Jon Murchison, a legal spokesman for Microsoft. "After our initial review, we do intend to appeal this injunction and will ask the appeals court to hear it on an expedited basis."
But Sun's lawyers were jubilant. In a statement issued by Sun last Monday, it praised the decision as a victory for consumers and Java developers at large. Without such an injunction now, while the larger anti-trust suit is being decided, both consumers and developers could not readily take advantage of Sun's latest technological improvements in the JVM. And, in the hotly contested Web application serving marketplace, the lack of access is critical to Sun's continued relevance in the marketplace.