Gates Gets a Java Headache

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As if all that trouble in Washington weren't enough of a distraction, Bill Gates was dealt a breathtaking blow Tuesday night in a courtroom closer to home. A federal judge in Seattle ordered Microsoft to modify Windows 98 within the next 90 days -- or have it forcibly pulled from store shelves. The problem? It's Java, the multimedia technology Sun Microsystems licensed to their Redmond rivals -- only to discover that Microsoft had produced a version that worked with Windows only. Now judge Ronald Whyte, who says Sun is "likely to prevail on the merits" of its ongoing lawsuit, has imposed the ultimate humiliation on Microsoft: Their version of Java must conform to Sun chairman Scott McNealy's standards, or else.

What this means for the antitrust trial is still uncertain. But there's no doubt that government lawyer David Boies will be cock-a-hoop that a central element of his own case, one yet to be presented, just got some hefty legal weight behind it. Curiously enough, Java has suddenly cropped up in the course of the trial in Washington. As Microsoft's dealings with IBM went under the spotlight, Boies presented a characteristically bitter e-mail from Gates: "We will never have the same relationship with IBM that we have with Compaq, Dell and even HP because of their software ambitions," he wrote. "I could deal with this just fine if they weren't such rabid Java backers." Now Gates is going to have to become a rabid Java backer, too -- or drop the technology altogether from his operating system.