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Microsoft replies

Microsoft responded last week to Sun Microsystems' allegations of unfair competition and infringement of its Java trademark with a countersuit in a US District Court. The suit claims that Sun did not fulfil its side of the companies' initial licensing agreement and accuses Sun of breach of contract, breach of good faith and unfair competition.

The countersuit says that Sun's technologies do not pass its own 100 per cent Pure Java tests; that its technologies do not run on Microsoft's Reference Implementation; and that its test suites were never made available to the public, as required by their licensing contract, signed in March 1996. Microsoft also claims that it was not treated on an equal footing with other Java licensees. Its complaint that Sun used unfair business practices is based on allegedly false statements by Sun about the compatibility and desirability of Microsoft's products.

"Sun has made statements about the desirability of our product and the nature of the relationship that are simply false," Charles Fitzgerald, a Microsoft group program manager, said. "We need to clear that up in both the marketplace and the legal arena."

Meanwhile, 5 December has been set as the date for a hearing in a separate case, where the US Department of Justice is accusing Microsoft of engaging in uncompetitive, monopolistic practices by violating a 1995 consent decree and forcing PC makers to feature its Internet Explorer browser over the rival Netscape product. US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has ordered Microsoft to respond in writing to government allegations by 10 November and the US Attorney General to respond by 20 November before both parties appear before him. The case will revolve around whether or not Internet Explorer is an integral part of the Windows operating system. If it is judged to be a separate product, Microsoft will face $1m daily fines.

Handhelds boom

A survey by International Data Corporation (IDC) says that the West European market for handheld computing devices will double next year with demand for smart phones and pen-controlled "personal companions" driving the growth. Europe is set to lead the worldwide market for smart phones - cell phones that enable voice and data communication - with prices under pounds 500 and demand rising by an average of 97 per cent a year with 2 million units shipping in 2002. Sales of personal companions - cheap, shirt-pocket- sized devices - will rise by 142 per cent in 1998.

According to IDC, the arrival of more practical and more powerful products, the launch of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, and greater Internet and e-mail use have revived the market, expected to be worth $1.2bn in 1998 in Western Europe. The picture for PC-companions such as Psion's Series 5 and Hewlett Packard's LX lines is not so rosy - an average yearly increase of only 26 per cent is forecast. The market for personal digital assistants weighing about 1lb and storing schedules, contact numbers, calendar information, etc, is not expected to take off.

Sun loses on Java

Sun Microsystems' application to remain custodian of its Java programming language, once it is made a public standard, has been voted against by the US delegation to the International Standards Organisation (ISO). A majority of the US panel voted yes, but the overall vote did not reach the necessary two-thirds majority. "We knew the US would be hard," Jim Mitchell, JavaSoft vice-president, said. "We missed it by the slimmest of margins." Sun remains cautiously optimistic of ultimate victory because the ISO's final verdict will be based on the opinions of 27 countries. So far, only the US has voted against Sun's management of the Java standard. Australia, France, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have ruled in favour. The remaining 20 countries must vote by 14 November.

Lotus Notes bug

Lotus Development has confirmed a bug in its Notes 4.x viewer when displaying Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The problem appears when a user defines a custom number format in Excel. The Notes viewer eliminates decimal points from custom formatted numbers, multiplying the value of each decimal number by 100. Affected versions of the spreadsheet include Excel 5, Excel 6, Excel 95, and Excel 97.

Lotus is currently evaluating a fix for the problem but doesn't see a patch becoming available until later this year, when it will be part of Notes 4.5.4 and 4.6.1. However, Boston-based Inso Corp, maker of the Notes viewing technology, has produced a fix. "Lotus got the fix months ago, and it's up to them to decide when [to implement] the latest viewer." Paul Lamoureux, a spokesman for Inso, said. Inso has a product, QuickView Plus, containing its latest viewers that can be downloaded from the Web site at http:// for $49.