MS ANTITRUST: Appeals court hears Microsoft Java order

A U.S. appeals court heard arguments Thursday about whether it should let stand a lower court decision to require Microsoft Corp. to carry a version of Java endorsed by rival Sun Microsystems Inc.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., heard from both sides Thursday. Each company had 30 minutes to present essentially the same arguments they made during Sun’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. There, Judge Frederick Motz ruled Dec. 23 that Microsoft must include the Sun version of Java in Windows XP and on download sites.

On Feb. 3, the appeals court delayed the Java “must-carry” order from Motz, who is presiding over a number of private antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft. Motz had set the clock ticking on the Java order in a ruling Jan. 21, when he gave Microsoft 120 days to comply.

Sun has argued that Microsoft tried to derail a competitive threat posed by Java by offering a version of the technology that is incompatible with Sun’s specifications. Its lawyers argued before Motz that Microsoft’s behaviour, if allowed to continue, would unfairly drive developers to Microsoft’s competing .Net platform.

Microsoft has argued that other issues, such as Java’s performance and quality, have hampered developer adoption of Java, not Microsoft’s actions. Its lawyers have argued that the “must-carry” Java order is an extreme solution to Java’s competitive disadvantage, and that Motz’s order is unprecedented in antitrust law.

On Feb. 3, Microsoft took the first step to comply with Motz’s order, by replacing the service pack Windows XP SP1 with a new service pack, XP SP1a, which is identical to the previous service pack but excludes Microsoft’s Java virtual machine.