Microsoft Says Java's a Bitter Brew

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The scene was straight out of "Perry Mason," or at least a lesser "Matlock": Microsoft lawyer Tom Burt hectoring Sun VP (and Java creator) James Gosling and dissing the very same technology that Burt yesterday presented as a profound threat to the future of Redmond. Burt's refrain: Java is an inferior technology, isn't it? Say it! Say it!

No dummy, Gosling did nothing of the sort. But he did acknowledge that the "write once, run anywhere" promise of Java is at best half-brewed. And that, Microsoft hopes, will underscore its main point: That Sun's Java never worked as promised, which meant Redmond had to write its own version. Of course, Microsoft's version is hardly cross-platform -- it runs only on Windows machines. "This is the classic Microsoft argument," says TIME technology editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt. "If their rivals are having problems it's because they can't cut it, not because of anything Microsoft did." What's unfortunate is that there's a little bit of truth in all of these allegations -- Java is notoriously unstable. But even if that's true, it doesn't mean Microsoft didn't try to use its leverage to put Java where Sun don't shine, says prosecutor David Boies. Microsoft's argument, says Boies, "is a little bit like saying if somebody shoots you they can defend [themselves] by saying you have cancer."