Sun Microsystems launched a $1 billion lawsuit against Microsoft Friday, citing its dissatisfaction with the government's proposed settlement in Microsoft's antitrust case. The Sun lawsuit is the third such suit to erupt in recent days, following similar cases brought by browser-maker Netscape (a division of AOL Time Warner) and Be, a small California company that wasn't successful breaking into the OS market. (Microsoft's guilty verdict specifically mentioned Sun and Netscape as examples of companies that suffered from Microsoft's illegal, anticompetitive actions.) Sun makes Java, a Web-oriented runtime environment that is no longer included in Windows.

Sun says that the weak US Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement will do nothing to prevent Microsoft from using its emerging .NET technologies to extend its Windows monopoly to the Internet. "If left unchecked to exploit the power of its monopoly position, Microsoft intends to use the .NET Framework to move its current monopoly in the PC operating system market into a more expansive and potentially more dangerous monopoly that encompasses software development on every computing device connected to the network," the suit reads. "We believe Microsoft's ultimate goal is no less than establishing Microsoft-controlled choke points to Internet access," said Michael H. Morris, Sun's senior vice president and general counsel.

Sun says that it has lost billions of dollars because Microsoft dropped Java support. The company previously sued Microsoft for illegally altering Java; Microsoft eventually settled with Sun for more than $20 million. Since then, Microsoft has dropped its Java support and no longer bundles the environment with Windows. Sun wants the court to force Microsoft to reinstate the support and disclose technical details about Windows, Internet Explorer (IE), and the .NET Framework so that Sun can more easily build compatible products.

Microsoft says the suit has no merit. I spoke with Microsoft spokesperson Jon Murchinson late Friday, and he pointed out that consumers can still easily access Java technology from Windows XP. "Clearly, Java technology is widely used, but any lack of consumer acceptance is due to Sun's own failures, not Microsoft's actions," Murchinson said. "We feel that it's time to move past litigious issues, many of which are related to the lawsuit we settled last year. The real losers here are software developers and consumers. Our opinion is that the industry is at its best when we collectively focus on innovating."

Legal experts aren't so sure. Because the court found Microsoft liable for harming Sun, that company has a good chance of winning the case if it can weather years of legal battles. Morris says that he expects to see preliminary injunctions handed down by the end of the year.