Sun Shine 

The Internet tells a big one to sit down and be quiet

The Internet tells a big one to sit down and be quiet

You may remember reading in this column a mere three weeks ago about the trouble between computer manufacturer Sun Microsystems and local electronics supply house Javanco. Sun, developer of the well-regarded “Java” computer language, had fired off a cease-and-desist letter to Javanco via a Palo Alto corporate lawyer. At issue: the name “Javanco” and its infringement on the trade name “Java.”

When this column was published, the Scene received many inquiries about the story from concerned Nashvillians. Many readers asked for a transcript of the letter, which we sent out—and which ultimately made it all over the country.

Several copies of the letter initially made it to private discussion groups called “listservs.” Then the transcript slowly slipped into more public message forums; it was apparently posted in several areas dedicated to the discussion of the Java programming language.

The letter touched off a bitter debate among users on the Internet. Was it Sun’s duty to protect the Java trademark by going after so-called “related names”? Was Javanco a risk for Sun? Was Sun going after other related names as well—a coffee company, for instance?

In the middle of this debate, Computer Underground Digest, a widely read collection of “news items” making a stir in the Internet world, published the letter and some of the facts surrounding the case. Although some of the facts related in this account were wrong, the story was compelling enough that it earned even more attention.

Chris Nerney, a senior writer for the industry trade publication Network World, spotted the story in a copy of the digest and decided to pursue the story in earnest. And so, on May 17, the Sun Microsystems-Javanco dispute graced the front cover of the magazine. Shortly after this, Associated Press picked up the story, leading to its inclusion in such papers as the San Jose Mercury News.

The sudden rush of publicity both online and in print caught Sun Microsystems completely off guard. The Network World story was resoundingly critical of the entire mess, and it only served to make Sun’s position in the matter untenable. Only two days after the initial publication of the article, the president of the JavaSoft division of Sun decided to make a personal, and very public, apology to Javanco.

In a message on the JavaSoft’s own World Wide Web site, Dr. Alan Baratz acknowledged that his company was at the center of a “storm on the Net.” He went on to defend his trademark, but he ultimately called off the battle. “[A] company called Javanco received a letter when it should have been clear from the circumstances that Javanco’s name was not a play off of our Java trademark. Let us just apologize to Javanco here and now. It was a mistake on our part.” (To see the complete text of JavaSoft’s apology, direct your browser to http://java.sun.com/aboutJavaSoft/clarification.html. )

Javanco officials were nothing short of ecstatic. “We won big,” says D. Javan Keith, the man cited in most published accounts of the matter. “I’m really glad it’s over. We always knew we were right and they were wrong.”

The heavy publicity has had a definite impact on Javanco’s business. The company reports business has been “booming,” both locally and nationwide, due in part to the link Sun Microsystems has provided to Javanco’s Web site ( http://www.javanco.com/ ).

One final note: Despite all the nationwide interest in the Sun Microsystems-Javanco dispute, the story did not, curiously, make it to either the Nashville Banner or The Tennessean.

Bytes

♦ In a scary display of a worst-case scenario coming true, a computer bug bit down hard this past week. Netcom, by far the largest Internet service provider in the United States, suffered a complete network outage last Tuesday for nearly 13 hours. Even worse, the outage took place in so-called “prime time” afternoon hours.

Stock prices responded to the problem even quicker than technical support did. By Wednesday, Netcom’s stock price had fallen nearly $5 to $28.75, and several large brokerage firms had changed the company’s status from “buy” to “hold.”

As it turns out, the problem is quite common to the Internet these days. Netcom’s troubles arose when several small routing computers along the company’s main lines of transmission failed simultaneously. Something similar happened to Sprint’s own Internet lines late last year.

Industry experts say problems like Netcom’s will only get worse in coming months as more people sign on to the Internet and increase the load on the computer network. Until main lines of transmission are upgraded and several pieces of obsolete equipment are phased out, the Internet will still be subject to, as one industry analyst put it, “blackouts and brownouts.”

♦ Two Nashville teenagers were arrested Friday and charged with plotting to blow up the L&C Tower downtown with stolen explosives. Although not entirely certain, federal officials suspect the 14 sticks of dynamite were stolen from a construction site.

When one of the suspects was searched by police, they found a stack of papers in his backpack. Among other things, the papers included instructions on how to build bombs, apparently been obtained via the Internet. Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metro Police Department, took note of this fact, and, in an account published by the Tennessean on Friday, issued a warning to parents to monitor their children when they’re using the network.

Aaron is right, but it’s worth bearing in mind that information on how to build bombs can also be found at the local library or neighborhood bookstore. Parents should take responsibility for their kids, no matter where they happen to do their learning.

Joel Moses can be reached at joel@moses.com.

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