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Sun vs. Microsoft

Sun's lawsuit against Microsoft over Java incompatibilities in Internet Explorer 4 is going to have major implications on the future of cross-platform computing; but, as a consumer should I care?

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Sun seem to think so. The lawsuit is not about some legal definition of copyright infringement like Apple's old lawsuit with Microsoft. This lawsuit is over issues that go directly to the question of whether Java is a platform or a language: "… trademark infringement, false advertising, breach of contract, unfair competition, interference with prospective economic advantage, and inducing breach of contract." (Wired News).

For the consumer Java's only real attribute is a cool brand name that is quickly becoming passé. Part of the problem is that Java is still new and unproven. There are no Information Appliances worth buying (the one's that are use their own proprietary OS). Network Computers have not yet advanced to the point of being consumer products. And there is no Java version of Office or Quake to cause people to replace their Macintosh or Windows applications.

Ask the average person outside of the computer industry about Java and they'll mention Starbucks. Even the average websurfer will have a hard time explaining how Java has enhanced their experience. Plugins have won the multimedia war; with Shockwave, Flash and QuickTime displacing Java. Advances in scripting, dynamic HTML and most importantly design philosophy have replaced Java as a website language; leaving Java as a language for custom Intranet applications (but still a multi-billion dollar industry).

But Sun sees Java as a platform and a brand name thus setting the stage for the lawsuit with Microsoft. McNealy isn't a visionary like Gates or Jobs, he didn't become the CEO of Sun to change the world. He simply wants to make money by selling computers. Java was its marketing plan for success, if Java is successful then Sun is successful. What Microsoft is trying to do is take Sun out of the equation.

Slowly and blatantly, Microsoft has been trying to circumvent Sun's control over Java. First they introduced their own application development framework (with the goal of making Java a better language for Windows) and then signed an alliance with Apple to give the appearance of cross-platform intentions. Sun responded by saying that Apple was irrelevant. But without Apple, where is the cross platform advantage of Java. Next, Microsoft removed Java applets from their site and articles appeared in Slate discussing the Java hype. Then an interview with Bill Gates emphasized that Windows ran Java better than any platform, that Sun was adding tests that had nothing to do with Java compatability or performance. He also explained that Windows was 'open' because Microsoft doesn't charge developers a fee to develop Windows programs. The aim of Microsoft's action is to associate Java with languages such as C, LOGO, PASCAL and BASIC, rather than to allow Java to establish itself as a competitor to Windows. Java is at its essence a brand name, a virtual machine, and a set of development tools. If Sun has its way Java will become an open standard with Sun deriving the monetary benefits. If Microsoft has its way Java will become a Windows development tool. Either way consumers win.

-Dean Hall October 4,1997





Recent Essays:

Sosumi: Sun vs. Microsoft - is the lawsuit bad news for consumers.(Oct. 7, 1997)

Being different - reaction to the new Apple Ad campaign (Sept 30, 1997)

A Plan for Be - a business plan for Be Inc.(Sept 22, 1997)

Being Apple - Aftermath of the Apple purchase of NeXT. (Jan. 15, 1997)

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