A federal appellate court ruled late last week that Microsoft would not have to immediately bundle Sun's Java technology in its Windows XP operating system, paving the way for a trial late this year to determine the final outcome. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia also ruled that Microsoft must stop distributing its outdated and incompatible Java version, noting that the technology probably did violate Sun's copyright. This last bit is quite important, as it suggests that Sun's case against the software giant has validity. And if this is true, Sun may ultimately be rewarded with the inclusion of its Java version in Windows.
"We feel pretty darn good about our chances," said Lee Patch, Sun's vice president for legal affairs, whose company is suing Microsoft for $1 billion. Microsoft's official remarks about the ruling were a bit more subdued, with a company spokesperson noting that the decision was a "positive step ... in a long legal process."
The Sun case against Microsoft has grown somewhat complicated. Late last year, Judge J. Frederick Motz of the Federal District Court in Baltimore handed down a preliminary injunction that would have required Microsoft to immediately begin bundling Sun's Java version in a new XP service pack to be called SP1b. However, after seeking to place the injunction on hold until the case went to court, Microsoft was able to forestall the distribution of Sun's technology, and last week's ruling settles the issue until the court case can begin. Meanwhile, several major PC makers, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have already made separate agreements with Sun to bundle Sun's Java on their XP-based PCs. And, naturally, Microsoft is prepping a second XP service pack, SP2, which is due this fall. Currently SP2 betas include no Java version.