Gates Considered Java a Threat, Video Shows


Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates acknowledged in videotaped testimony played at his company’s antitrust trial Wednesday that he regarded the Java computer language as a threat to Microsoft’s dominant Windows operating system software.

The admission, contained in a deposition given by Gates in August, was shown in U.S. District Court here to bolster allegations that Microsoft had a motive to illegally crush Java.

The Justice Department, 20 states and the District of Columbia have accused the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant of trying to snuff out the innovative Java programming language. The software, developed by Sun Microsystems Inc. of Palo Alto, allows software developers to write programs that--unlike Windows--would run on virtually any computer system.


The Gates video was played to set the stage for government witness James Gosling, the inventor of Java and a vice president at Sun. Though Gosling spent much of Wednesday explaining the technical underpinnings of Java, he has asserted in his written testimony that Microsoft tried to kill his invention.

In his deposition, Gates denied that his company ever tried to prevent software developers from creating programs to run on Java rather than Windows or blocked the widespread distribution of Java to programmers and computer users. “We had no way of preventing Java from being used on other platforms,” Gates said.

Gates’ testimony was presented after the government suffered a setback earlier in the day when Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson rebuffed its bid to use testimony from two former Microsoft employees who have accused the software company of using illegal tactics six years ago to crush DR-DOS, a rival to Microsoft’s own MS-DOS operating system.

Jackson, however, left open the possibility that the government could seek to introduce the testimony of Stefanie Reichel and Phil Barrett if it can establish the relevance of the pair’s explosive charges to the current antitrust case.

Microsoft denies it used any illegal tactics to promote its products. The company issued a statement Wednesday complaining that “the government chooses excerpts” of testimony that are “less about substance than about driving news coverage.”

During cross-examination of Gosling, Microsoft lawyer Tom Burt attempted to get the Sun executive to disavow claims that Java programs could run on virtually any computer. Although Gosling acknowledged they were sometimes slower than applications created for a specific platform, he said recent versions produce much better results.

“There are certainly tasks to which Java is not appropriate,” he said. “That’s why there are multiple [computer] languages.”