WASHINGTON -- A Microsoft Corp. lawyer belittled a rival company's computer technology, called Java, suggesting in a court exchange Thursday that Java's troubled early years were the rival's own fault rather than the result of illegal behavior by Microsoft.
The company's lawyer confronted James Gosling, a Sun Microsystems Inc. scientist who helped create Java, with claims that his technology has been over-hyped and suffers from critical performance problems and compatibility bugs.
Gosling acknowledged "some rockiness" with earlier versions of Java, a 2-year-old computer language that creates software that can run with only minor changes on a variety of computers, not just those using Microsoft's Windows operating system.
"It is getting better," Gosling said. "We are working to make it better. ... We are not perfect."
As part of its antitrust case, the government contends that Microsoft saw Java as a menace to its dominant Windows operating system because Java programs don't explicitly require Windows.
A July 1997 e-mail from Microsoft executive Paul Maritz to Chairman Bill Gates, released earlier this week, described Java as "our major threat."
The government alleges that Microsoft, to protect its Windows monopoly, tried to "pollute" Java by encouraging developers to use a Windows-dependent version, and that it also tried to block distribution of Sun's Java, which was included as part of the Internet software of another company, Netscape.
Although Microsoft lawyers spent much of Wednesday arguing Java had been a threat to the company, they apparently reversed course Thursday to describe Java as a fledgling technology full of broken promises.
Microsoft lawyer Tom Burt used Sun's own documents describing problems with Java, as well as articles from industry publications that disparaged Java's versatility, yet told the judge he was trying to show that Java posed "competition for the hearts and minds of (software) developers."
And outside court one of Microsoft's top executives, Tod Nielsen, called it technically impossible to write a software program that will run without changes on a variety of computers.
"It turns out the promises were bigger than the facts," Nielsen said.
Justice Department lawyer David Boies derided Microsoft's strategy: "What Microsoft is saying as a defense is, if somebody shoots you, they can defend that by saying you had cancer."
Microsoft also argued that the version it adapted for Windows is technically better than Sun's original version. "Instead of letting the cancer patient die, we have a cure, and the cure is Windows," Nielsen said.