In an unexpected development in its legal battle with Sun Microsystems, Microsoft Corporation has been ordered by the judge overseeing the case to ship a version of Java that is certified to be compatible by Sun. However, Microsoft says that the ruling, which is basically the reinstatement of an injunction which had expired, represents no change at all for the company since it has been shipping such a version of Java since early last year. However, both sides are claiming victory Tuesday.

"We are gratified that \[the\] Judge reinstated the preliminary injunctive relief needed to redress this injury to competition, and that he did so after finding that Microsoft's business practices had been unfair," said Sun general counsel Michael Morris.

"It's a great sign for \[Microsoft\] and other parties that competition on the merits of technology is still acceptable," said Microsoft spokesperson Jim Cullinan, noting that the legal disagreement focuses solely on licensing issues. "Sun is trying to prevent and limit competition, trying to control Java."

Sun filed suit in October 1997 because it felt that Microsoft was usurping control of Java by shipping a version of the programming language that did not meet its compatibility requirements. Microsoft is prevented from shipping its incompatible version of Java until the case is resolved, probably sometime this year.

Another, more relevant, issue is whether Microsoft will continue its Java development at all. While the company dispelled rumors that it would replace Java with a C++-based language called "COOL," it hasn't exactly been improving its Visual J++ Java tool either. Visual J++, which shipped in mid-1998, is based on Java 1.1, an older version of the language. And since virtually none of the improvements made to Java since then are available to J++ users, developer support for the Microsoft tool has fallen dramatically. Microsoft is set to deliver new versions of its developer tools sometime this year. Whether Visual J++ will be among them remains to be seen