Microsoft drops Java support on eve of court date

Washington (AP) — 06/19/2002 Updated 09:34 AM ET — Closing arguments in nine states' antitrust suit against Microsoft have been complicated again by an ongoing technology industry feud. Microsoft announced Tuesday, a day in advance of the closing arguments, that it will drop support for Sun Microsystems' flagship Java product by 2004. Microsoft cited Sun's opposition in the antitrust case, as well as Sun's private suits against Microsoft.

"The decision to remove Microsoft's Java implementation was made because of Sun's strategy of using the legal system to compete with Microsoft," Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said in a statement. Current versions of Windows XP do not include Java, though users can download it if they need to run programs written in the language. But Microsoft did say it would temporarily restore support for Java in the upcoming update to Windows XP, expected this fall.

Sun offered little praise for Microsoft's decision to carry Java for the time being, focusing on the 2004 deadline and Microsoft's decision to use its own incompatible version.

In a statement, Sun called the decision "a move calculated to coerce consumers and developers who prefer the Java platform to nonetheless abandon that platform simply because Microsoft has publicized its intentions to deny the Java platform's access to Microsoft's monopoly distribution channels."

Several witnesses appearing in the states' case against Microsoft, including executives of computer maker Gateway, accused the software giant of retaliating against companies that refused Microsoft edicts or helped the government build its antitrust case.

In an interview, Microsoft General Counsel William Neukom declined to comment on the Java announcement or allegations of retaliation.

Cullinan said the company will temporarily support Java "to minimize any potential disruption among our customers."

The battle over Microsoft's implementation of Java — promoted for its ability to run programs regardless of what operating system it is installed on — was a central part of the federal antitrust case as well as two civil suits brought by Sun against Microsoft. Microsoft was criticized for "polluting" the standard by equipping Windows with its own flavor of Java, which was incompatible with Sun's version.

Sun has taken an active role in the antitrust case. It gave information to lawyers for the nine states suing the company and Sun executives testified during two months of penalty hearings.

Microsoft cited terms of a settlement with Sun in its decision to drop Java.

"The settlement agreement between the companies prevents Microsoft from making any changes — including any security fixes — to our Java implementation after January 1, 2004," Cullinan said. "We will not put our customers or Windows at risk so you can anticipate that there will be no Java in Windows from that point forward."

Microsoft was found by a federal appeals court to have used illegal means to stamp out competition. The Justice Department reached a settlement with Microsoft last year, but nine states are still seeking stronger antitrust penalties.

Microsoft's announcement Tuesday took the states by surprise, said California Assistant Attorney General Tom Greene. One of the antitrust penalties proposed by the states would force Microsoft to carry a Sun-approved version of Java.

"We're certainly surprised at this event on the eve of the closing arguments in a major antitrust case," Greene said. "We'll look forward to hearing more about this tomorrow."

Microsoft's Neukom said the company's arguments will focus on the "fragmentation and destabilization" of Windows that the company says would result from the state penalties. Microsoft will try to convince the judge that the non-settling states should get no more than the terms of the federal deal, he said.

"We believe the evidence to support that position is in this record," Neukom said.

States that rejected the government's settlement with Microsoft last fall and are pressing for tougher penalties are Iowa, Utah, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Kansas, Florida, Minnesota and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.