Sun sues Microsoft from inside a glass house

Opinion

Sun sues Microsoft from inside a glass house

Sun is railing at Microsoft, but maybe it should be hiring coders rather than lawyers

Sun boss Scott McNealy is an entertaining act, with a nice line in puns. For example, Microsoft's .net becomes ".not", Intel's Itanium is the "Itanic", and IBM's Regatta server is "Regretta". As comedians, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are not in the same league.

However, what the company has to say no longer seems relevant or interesting. In the 1980s, Sun beat the drum for networking and open standards, and those were important campaigns. Today, everybody is in favour of both, but it is still unclear why anybody should buy Sun servers running Sun's Solaris on Sun's Sparc chips with Sun's iPlanet software, or Sun's Unix workstations with Sun's Hotjava browser and Sun's Star Office suite.

A decade ago, buying Sun looked less proprietary and far less restrictive than something that locked you in to IBM for life. But, now that you can run GNU/Linux on cheap Intel hardware, how many people care?

In the 1990s, Sun promoted its platform-independent programming language Java. But today it is becoming increasingly obvious that Java is not truly platform-independent: it is, in fact, a proprietary platform, just like Windows.

The idea of writing everything in a single language is just as fascist as the idea of having a single operating system, whether it be Windows or Linux or Mac OS.
There are people who believe such things, but in my opinion they are nutters. And we all know what nutters do when the world does not turn out the way they want: they look for someone to blame. Maybe it is the Government, or aliens. In Sun's case, it's Microsoft.

The latest manifestation of this curious fixation came last week when Sun launched a private antitrust lawsuit against the Beast of Redmond. This would be understandable if it were just a tag-along effort designed to extract a few millions from Microsoft's $40bn pile of cash. AOL, software company Be, several US states and myriad other opportunists all fancy their chances at that.

But Sun's lawsuit is far bigger than the US government's case. It includes accusations of tying Internet Explorer to Windows (which the US government lost on appeal); tying Windows to Microsoft's server software; tying the Web server software to the server operating system; tying the .net framework to Windows; and monopolising the office productivity software market.

One reaction on the Web was that, rather than making even more lawyers even richer, Sun would do better if it hired some decent programmers to write some useful code. What a quaint idea - beating up Microsoft is much more fun.

Jack Schofield is computer editor at the Guardian

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This was first published in March 2002

 

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