Late yesterday, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems reached an agreement that ended a 3-year-old Java licensing lawsuit. Under terms of the agreement, Microsoft will pay Sun $20 million and be barred from using Sun's Java Compatible trademark. And although Microsoft can continue to use Java in its products for 7 years, the Java version the company must use is already out-of-date and will likely continue to be supplied only with older products. The agreement is notable for its timing: Since the Java lawsuit began, Microsoft has developed a competing programming language called C# that offers the same features as Java. But Microsoft immediately pursued the standards route for C#, a strategy Sun has continually ignored with Java.

"If other companies see what Sun means by 'compatibility,' they would choose to terminate their licensing agreements \[with Sun\] as well," Microsoft Spokesperson James Cullinan says of the agreement. "Sun was saying, 'Don't innovate; do everything we say, then we'll give you a license.'"

Sun sparked the lawsuit in 1997, less than a year after Microsoft licensed the technology from Sun. Alleging that Microsoft violated its licensing agreement, Sun took Microsoft to court for creating a Windows-only version of the programming language, which Sun designed to run on multiple platforms, including those that compete with Windows. Since then, Sun has won legal victory after legal victory in the Java lawsuit, although a judge did throw out a copyright violation claim Sun made. But with this week's agreement, Microsoft's use of Java is no longer in doubt: The company won't license any current or upcoming version of the language.

"We live in a world in which the Web is based on an honor system," says Sun Executive Vice President Patricia Sueltz, "and Microsoft has proven time and again that it is unwilling to abide by the rules of the Internet. Its behavior with regard to the Java technology is just one instance." If you're interested in the two companies' different spins regarding the lawsuit's conclusion, visit the Web sites Sun and Microsoft have created explaining the agreement.

Sun: Lawsuit-related information, Sun v. Microsoft

Microsoft: Java lawsuit information center