Microsoft and Sun Kiss and Make Up

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.

Sun on the agreement

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?