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A federal court of appeals on Thursday overturned a preliminary injunction against Microsoft that required it to add Sun Microsystems' Java to each unit of its Windows XP operating system sold.
Since February, Microsoft had been forced to add an up-to-date, Sun-approved version of the Java virtual machine to Windows so that desktop users could download and run Java applets on their machines. Sun received a favorable ruling from Baltimore District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz last December requiring Microsoft to add Java back to Windows XP after it had eliminated the programming language from the operating system. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.
While the appeals court ruling on the "must-carry" provision appeared to be a setback, Sun VP of legal affairs Lee Patch pointed to another part of the decision "affirming the copyright-infringement injunction." Microsoft had been offering its version of the Java virtual machine for free download from its Web site; Sun had challenged the practice as a violation of its copyright.
"While we are disappointed with the delay that results from the court's determination to vacate the preliminary injunction, the Court accepted the District Court's determination that Microsoft engaged in anticompetitive acts. We look forward to a speedy trial," Patch said.
Rich Green, Sun's VP for developer platforms, called the ruling "an important victory for the Java community." The loss of the injunction will have less impact than before since the two leading shippers of PCs, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, said earlier this month that they would automatically add the Java virtual machine to the Windows XP PCs they ship.
"Java technology on the desktop is vital," Green said. PC makers "have demonstrated how significant they find Java Web content and applications by choosing to license and distribute the latest compatible Java technology directly from Sun."
Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler says the company "was pleased with today's ruling" but Microsoft's legal dispute with Sun "continues to be a long process." He said the number of pretrial motions to be argued before the main copyright infringement case can get under way indicated to him that a trial is still two years off.
Sun's attention has now shifted to the trial, which will be "our opportunity to more fully address these (copyright infringement) and significant additional violations when we present our complete antitrust case against Microsoft," said Sun's Patch.
Although Sun is gaining ground with Java on handheld devices such as cell phones, Java has thus far not been a big player at the desktop. Facilities exist in Java to create user interfaces, but they didn't match Windows in sophistication or performance in 1997 and 1998, when Java was perhaps at the peak of its popularity. And Java's performance as downloaded applets was offset by the speed and simplicity of HTML pages, although active elements of those pages today frequently are powered by Java.
Sun is charging in its suit that Microsoft engaged in "anti-competitive acts against the Java platform and Sun with the purpose and effect of maintaining its monopoly over Intel-compatible PC operating systems."
Microsoft lawyers argued before the appeals court that Motz had overstepped the bounds in using a preliminary injunction to "alter the status quo in a market to benefit the dominant firm." The preliminary injunction didn't stop "any threatened wrongful conduct" but instead awarded Sun an injunction "as a remedy for conduct of six or seven years ago."