Sun Microsystems Inc. may be on course to discover the only thing worse than a pyrrhic victory is a pyrrhic defeat.

An industry expert calls the latest antitrust suit by the Santa Clara, Calif-based company against Microsoft Corp. “”a stalking course to kill .Net.””

“”They’re positioning in a way they can do Microsoft the greatest amount of damage and kill their .Net platform,”” says Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle.

Sun filed a suit Friday in a United States District Court claiming Microsoft was “”illegally impeding Sun’s business and harming the Java platform,”” and is seeking several injunctions related to Windows XP and Internet Explorer as well as damages in excess of US$1 billion.

Part of that strategy, Enderle says, involves branding Java damaged technology. To win its case, he says Sun will have to talk about Java being terminally injured — that Microsoft has destroyed the market viability of the product.

The danger this represents to Java and developers is obvious, but Enderle says Sun has travelled this road before.

“”Sun would be pretty much going in and testifying that Microsoft has destroyed the Java product. That’s going to scare the bejesus out of developers,”” Enderle says. “”There is that sense, Sun has done this in the past, that Sun is perfectly willing to sacrifice Java to take Microsoft down a few notches, and they’ve been successful in doing both. In the previous trial they did Java a substantial amount of damage, but they did Microsoft a substantial amount of damage as well. If you’re a developer you don’t necessarily like being canon fodder.””

Sun and Microsoft settled a lawsuit last year over Microsoft’s Java Virtual Machine whereby Microsoft agreed to let its licence expire. However Sun’s JVM is not included in Windows XP.

One Toronto developer isn’t losing any sleep over the case. Peter Ruttan, president of Netron Fusion, says he doesn’t expect the build up or the ruling to have any impact on his business. He says developers will figure a way to get their jobs done “”long before the dust settles.””

“”I think it’s kind of absurd and probably more to do with press and public relations than anything that really impacts consumers or business,”” Rutten says.

While Enderle says Microsoft is in a vulnerable position having been branded a monopoly by U.S. courts, a Burntsand spokesperson says the war is already over.

“”I hate to say it, (but) Microsoft has won before this thing has even started,”” says Tom Healey, the Burnaby, B.C.-based company’s chief marketing officer. “”What happens five years from now if they’re declared to be wrong? You can’t make up for those five years. That is time and/or strategic direction that would have gone into the further development, further refinement in the Microsoft desktop gone.””

What is a relative certainty, however, is the suit won’t be resolved anytime soon. Enderle says it could take the better part of a decade because of the stakes involved.

“”Sun and Microsoft don’t get along particularly well anyway, so that also makes an out-of-court settlement relatively unlikely,”” says Enderle, “”and Microsoft is going to fight to the death to protect that platform because it’s the future of Microsoft.””

— with files from Neil Sutton


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