Java politics reign as discord heightens

The politics surrounding the standardisation of Java boiled over this week, casting doubt on how and when the technology will become enshrined as a set of industry specifications.

The discord threatens the already controversial efforts of Sun Microsystems to shepherd elements of the Java platform and language through the standards process via the International Organisation for Standardisation, commonly known as the ISO.

Sun officials have been wrangling with some ISO-member national standards groups over such issues as intellectual property rights, ongoing maintenance of Java standards, and input for future standards.

The tempest was touched off by Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java Software division. At the Java Enterprise Solutions Symposium in Paris, he blamed ISO rule changes for Sun's decision to seek alternative means to standardise Java.

In 1997 Sun was granted Publicly Available Standard (PAS) submission authority by the ISO, which enabled Sun to directly forward Java specifications to the ISO for ratification. Sun's deadline for Java submissions is November, and the company has yet to forward proposals to the ISO.

Sun has been charged with trying to railroad the process and push proprietary technology under the guise of consensus standards.

If Sun nixes its PAS submission efforts, it could open the door to the ISO's own development of Java standards, although such a move would be subject to internal debate, observers said.

Sun is weighing the possibility of working with the European Computer Manufacturers' Association and the Object Management Group -- both of which are authorized to make PAS submissions to the ISO -- and others, Sun officials said.

Although not denying Baratz's comments, officials stressed that no final decisions have been made and that Sun's ultimate goal is to seek ISO certification, whether via its own PAS efforts or those of another group.

"ISO is the final destination, but we're considering other options for the best way to move forward," said Ken Urquhart, manager of Java standardisation at Sun.

Microsoft officials said that the rift exposes the proprietary nature of Java's evolution and undermines claims of the technology's cross-platform reach. They also denied accusations that Microsoft engaged in high-stakes lobbying to push the ISO rule changes.

Officials at IBM, which is Sun's largest and most influential Java partner, expressed confidence that Java would ultimately reach standards status.

However, Sun risks being thrown to the proverbial Microsoft wolves if it engages in brinksmanship with standards bodies, according to Eric Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, a market research company in Cambridge, Mass.

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