JAVA BUSINESS: Sun to retain grip on Java

Sun Microsystems will not submit Java to the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA), a standards body with which it had been working to make Java an official standard.

In her first major act since joining Sun Microsystems two months ago as president of its software products platform division, Pat Sueltz today announced that the company will not submit Java to the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA), a standards body with which Sun had been working to make Java an official standard.

The announcement, made here at the Java Business Expo, comes just nine days before Sun was to make its intentions clear at a meeting with the ECMA general assembly, and just hours after a keynote address in which Sun's chairman and Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy skirted the question of whether Sun was willing to give up control of the standard.

Instead of working with a standards body, Sun has decided it will create a working group to study the Java Community Process, hoping, Sueltz said, to improve the process and ensure that the speed and innovation with which the standard has evolved will continue. The Java Community Process is Sun's mechanism for allowing third-party developers and vendors to have input on the development of Java.

"There is no ulterior motive here. This is about keeping Java moving," Sueltz said.

In offering deeper reasoning behind her decision, Sueltz was careful to assuage any fears that the company's decision to "remain the guardians of Java" will lead to a proprietary turn in the technology, noting that Sun will be "steadfast about controlling (Java) compatibility, but not about controlling the technology."

"Java is bigger than one company," Sueltz asserted.

Sueltz said that the decision was not based on any malice towards ECMA or the standards process, but was simply an executive decision based on four and a half years of seeing the Java evolve successfully under Sun's watch.

"The buck stops with me. I made the decision, and not for any malice of ECMA or anyone else," Sueltz said.

The announcement set off immediate rumblings that ECMA would try to standardise Java without Sun's approval, which could lead to a possible fracturing of the platform.

However, according to George Paolini, vice president of Java Community Development at Sun, any Java standard ECMA could produce would only take into account the twenty or thirty percent of the specification, making it "hard to imagine how that would be representative of a complete standard."

The announcement came at the official launch event for the latest in Java, Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), at which Sueltz called for companies to compete on implementations, not on standards.

The fracture of standards by competition, Sueltz said, is "in the best case misguided; in the worst case misleading."

To compete on a standard, however, a standard must first exist, and one question that persists is what exactly constitutes compliance with the J2EE specification. That, said Bob Bickel, vice president of development for Bluestone Software in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, is a factor that could threaten the cross-vendor interoperability promised by Sun.

The problem, Bickel said, is that the test Sun will provide vendors is so simple that the reference implementation of the platform, which Sun officials say is not a production-level offering, could pass.

That, Bickel said, will make it difficult to determine exactly what products -- and many have already lined up in support -- will be truly J2EE-compliant and interoperable.

The issue of interoperability, however, may not be as big as some would believe, according to some observers. Randy Hietter, the vice president of product development of Persistence Software in San Mateo, California, said companies should be more concerned with the reliability and scalability advances in the platform than with compliance, adding that the J2EE platform will offer those features in spades.

Sun Microsystems Inc., in Mountain View, California, is at

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