It came as a surprise to many, but Sun and Microsoft agreed to a settlement to their long-running anti-trust dispute on Friday. The dispute was centred around Microsoft’s treatment of Sun’s Java programming language.
Microsoft has never liked Java, seeing it as a direct competitor with many of its own technologies such as ActiveX and C#. Microsoft support for Java was always patchy – MS’s own Java virtual machine was not strictly standard, and Java implementation and integration in Internet Explorer was troublesome. For a while Microsoft tried to divide the Java community with its own, not strictly compatible J++ language, but is now promoting C# as a substitute for Sun’s write-once-run-anywhere platform. Whilst C# is syntactically similar to Java, and has a remarkably similar API, it does not have many of the benefits of the Java platform, nor is it so widely supported.
However, it was J++ that angered Sun Microsystems – further inflamed when Microsoft declared that they would stop supporting Java, forcing users to download a VM if they wanted to run Java applets. It was this dispute that kicked off the EU’s case against Microsoft – and led to rulings relating to including better Java support in Windows and the uncoupling of Windows Media Player.
“Our companies will continue to compete hard, but this agreement creates a new basis for cooperation that will benefit the customers of both companies,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft in a statement, “This agreement recognizes that cutting edge R&D and intellectual property protection are the foundation for the growth and success of our industry. This is a positive step forward for both Sun and Microsoft, but the real winners are the customers and developers who rely on our products and innovations.”
Microsoft will pay Sun US$700 million (€578 million) to resolve the Java dispute, and a further US$900 million (€743 million) for patent issues. Both companies have agreed to pay each other royalties for the technologies that they license from one another, with Microsoft paying US$350 million (€289 million) up front.