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Washington, Dec. 24 (Reuters): Sun Microsystems won a major antitrust victory against Microsoft Corp on Monday when a federal judge ordered Microsoft to distribute Sun’s Java programming language in its Windows operating system.
US district judge J. Frederick Motz said he would grant the preliminary injunction sought by Sun to level the playing field between the Java write-once, run-anywhere software and Microsoft’s new .NET internet services strategy.
Sun and Microsoft have been arguing over Java’s inclusion in Microsoft’s operating system for years, with Sun charging that Microsoft tried to sabotage Java by dropping it from Windows XP, which was introduced last year.
Microsoft later reversed itself and said it would start including Java in a Windows XP update, but only until 2004 when the feature would be dropped.
Motz said there was a “substantial” likelihood the court will impose the “elegantly simple remedy” of making Microsoft’s software support Java, to prevent Microsoft’s past wrongs from giving it an advantage in the battle for internet-based computing.
The decision by Motz in the private antitrust suit revives a tough sanction against Microsoft that was rejected by another federal judge in the separate landmark government antitrust case against the world's biggest software company.
“I further find it is an absolute certainty that unless a preliminary injunction is entered, Sun will have lost forever its right to compete, and the opportunity to prevail, in a market undistorted by its competitor’s antitrust violations,” Motz said in the 42-page opinion.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said the company will ask for an appeal of the ruling on an expedited basis. “Clearly we’re disappointed with today’s ruling and still need to review the details of the court's decision,” Desler said.
Sun Microsystems shares in after hours trade was at $ 3.30 on Instinet, up from its closing stock price of $ 2.96 on the Nasdaq market. Microsoft shares fell to $ 53.76 from its close of $ 54. Shares of Sun and Microsoft were the most active in after-hours trade on Instinet.
Sun vice-president Mike Morris said in a prepared statement that the ruling will benefit consumers and software developers. “This decision changes the dynamics of the distribution channel for the Java technology,” Morris said. That technology “promises to open the markets now monopolised by Microsoft to the benefits of robust competition and unrestrained innovation.”
The preliminary injunction in the private antitrust suit will remain in effect while the case is either tried or settled. “This is a pretty far-reaching step,” said George Mason University law professor Ernest Gellhorn, who said the ruling could foreshadow the final outcome of the case.
“A judge does not do that lightly,” Gellhorn said. “Before that, the betting would have been that Microsoft would not have lost the case.”
Sun’s antitrust lawsuit, which also seeks at least $ 1 billion in damages, is one of several currently before Motz that have been filed in the wake of Microsoft’s long-running antitrust fight with the government. A settlement of the government suit was endorsed by US district judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last month, although Massachusetts and West Virginia are appealing.
After holding hearings earlier this year on the case, Kollar-Kotelly rejected a Java “must-carry” proposal by nine state attorneys general, as well as a string of other forward-looking sanctions. However, unlike Kollar-Kotelly, Motz said he had to consider the future impact that Microsoft’s past misdeeds would have on the market.
“Microsoft, Sun and the developer community are all looking toward the future, and in order to determine whether a must-carry injunction is necessary and appropriate, a court must do so as well,” Motz wrote.
Sun contends Microsoft sabotaged its Java software to fend off a threat to its Windows monopoly.