spilled Java

Microsoft has been ordered to include Sun's Java distribution with Windows. From the Reuters story:

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz handed down a preliminary injunction at the request of Sun Microsystems that will force Microsoft to carry Java. He said Microsoft had "leveraged its PC monopoly to create market conditions in which it is unfairly advantaged."

"It is an absolute certainty that unless a preliminary injunction is entered, Sun will have lost forever its right to compete, and the opportunity to prevail, in a market undistorted by its competitors' antitrust violations," Motz wrote in his decision.

Hating Microsoft is practically a religion, so it isnt't surprising that hardcore geeks at Slashdot are crowing about the decision[1]. The story has even been classified under the Your Rights Online (YRO) section, implying that this is a great victory for freedom (as in liberty).

However, if you look at the history of the litigation between Sun and Microsoft regarding Java, it's clear that Sun is not putting any faith in the free market or their product - they are using the courts to compete. Sun originally developed Java specifically to try and wrest market share for application development away from Microsoft's Windows platform. The idea was that you could write Java applications using any operating System (like Sun's Solaris, or Mac OS) which would then run on any other operating system (ie, Windows).

The reason Microsoft was dominant was because of the network effect - a positive feedback cycle where Windows became more and more attractive to developers as more users used it, so there were more apps written for Windows, which drove more users towards Windows, etc. Repeat.)[2]

So Sun needed Microsoft to include Java in Windows, and the two companies signed a license agreement. But Microsoft was by far the more ingenious - they built extensions into Java that were useless outside of Windows, but which allowed Java apps written expressly for Windows to be substantially faster and improved. It's not difficult to see why this infuriated Sun, nor why it delighted Windows users and developers.

Though these proprietary changes were expressly allowed under the terms of the licensing agreement, Sun revoked teh license and sued Microsoft to stop include their customized Java in Windows. Microsoft complied, and Sun victory. Then Microsoft announced that they weren't going to include Java in the upcoming Windows XP release, and Sun was back at square one. So now, Sun sues Microsoft to put Java back in!

Keep in mind that Java is available for free, from Sun's website, and works perfectly well with Windows. Microsoft has not disabled or interfered in Sun's Java in any way. What we have, then, is Sun begging Microsoft to include Java, then yanking it away, then forcing it back! All of this is purely symbolic and has nothing to do with Microsoft being a monopoly. Sun is simply using the courts to try and succeed rather than the market, using litigation to advance their product rather than letting it stand on its own merits. And part of the crusade is personal, driven by Scott McNealy's pathological hatred of Bill Gates. McNealy's attempts to demonize Gates are laughable - especially considering how Bill Gates spends his money.

It won't work. Java has been displaced by .NET which by all accounts from people who actually use it, is superior in every way as a development environment. And Java doesn't have much advantage on websites, either, with the rise of Flash by Macromedia (and which Microsoft is also looking to acquire. Checkmate.)

For excellent background reading and in-depth history of the Sun-Microsoft fracas over Java, I recommend Steven Den Beste's coverage of the affair - starting here, continuing here, and lastly here. It will be interesting to see what Steven has to say about the current court ruling.

UPDATE: RJH disagrees, saying that the court order was a good thing (permalinks broken, scroll down). His explanantion is very detailed, and much more knowledgeable about prior cases and precedent, but I don't agree with him. He equates suppor of Microsoft's position in this *specific* ruling as equivalent to believing that "The pro-Microsoft case would argue that ISP, Internet, long distance, cellular, and local telephone service should all be provided by TPC. There should be no alternative vendors or competition in any of these markets." That's absurd. My main position is that Micrsoft shoudl not be forced to include a competitor's product in the distribution of their product, especially since (1) that competitor's product is readily available for free from the competitor, and (2) the competitor (Sun) has a history of using the courts ather than the markets to compete.

[1]Every kharmawhore with a "this rulez!" post has been modded up to +5/Insightful.
[2]Note that critics of Microsoft often argue that Microsoft's market advantage was achieved by using Embrace and Extend (and Extinguish) (EEE) tactics. First of all, such tactics are not illegal, they are legitimate strategies in a fiercely competitive market. But it's purely delusional to think that Sun or Apple would not have used the same tactice if their positions were reversed. In fact, EEE is only possible AFTER you have achieved and benefited from the network effect - if this were not the case, then Apple and Sun woudl be able to use EEE to grow their own market share. So, assuming that Microsoft's hegemony is the result of EEE tactics is a causal fallacy. And if you think EEE is somehow unfair, consider that it's nowhere near as ruthless as the tactics employed by other companies - such as IBM.

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