Round 1 decision goes against Java standard

Despite Defense Information Systems Agency backing for fast-track approval of Java as
an international standard, the Sun Microsystems Inc. language has lost the initial round.


DISA computer scientist Jerry Smith, a principal on the U.S. Joint Technical Committee
considering the matter, called Sun's case a watershed that will determine the future of
voluntary standards for global information and communications technology.


The U.S. committee defeated Sun's request by one vote, but it also pledged to work with
Sun to resolve the trademark, intellectual property rights and maintenance support issues
raised by Sun's proposal, Smith said.


A July 17 vote by the International Standards Organization and International
Electrotechnical Commission was the same as the U.S. committee's no vote.


Smith said Sun has a second chance within the next 60 days to win approval of Java as a
publicly available specification.


Sun has argued that Java specifications are publicly available because they are
developed through public comment on the Internet. But Microsoft Corp., which recently
joined the committee, strongly opposed Sun's position.


Sun "simply asked ISO to sanction what they are doing without giving up any
control. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too," said Charles Fitzgerald,
program manager of Microsoft's Java team.


He called the proposal "brazen and, quite frankly, offensive to some of the
standards community."


Sun Microsystems spokeswoman Elizabeth McNichols said the company applied to ISO/IEC
"to keep Java from splintering" while preserving the investment that industry,
government and academic institutions have made in the language.


Sun officials are eager to see the Java language become more formalized and therefore
"harder to deviate from," McNichols said.


That admission means to some that Sun is worried Java might not make it as a de facto
standard.


"A de facto standard sometimes works if somebody has the market clout to pull it
off," said Mike Hogan, the National Institute of Standards and Technology
representative on the U.S. Joint Technical Committee.


Because Sun apparently hopes to foster Java market growth faster with ISO/IEC standards
approval, that means Sun believes a de facto standard won't be as useful, Hogan said.


Sun's action is unprecedented in the history of standards development, said Jennifer
Garner, administrator for the U.S. Joint Technical Committee's 1 Technical Advisory Group
(JTC 1 TAG). The fast-track program for getting a straight up or down vote on publicly
available specifications started two years ago as a way to speed up the JTC 1 process and
"attract some of the hot new technologies that weren't coming to us anymore,"
Garner said.


But this is the first time a single, for-profit company has sought to use the public
specification program, she said. Requests for fast-track approval previously had come only
from industry consortia such as the Open Group Ltd. and the European Workshop on Open
Systems, Garner said. But nothing in the JTC 1 rules prohibits a vendor from submitting a
specification for straight up or down approval, she said.


The specification process appeared to be a way that Sun could keep its Java development
process intact and also get the advantages of being an ISO standard, McNichols said.


The Java development process begins with a Sun engineer drafting an initial
specification, which then goes to Sun licensees for comment, McNichols said. Next it goes
up on the company's World Wide Web site at http://java.sun.com
for public comment.


"Developers come to the site in their free time, read through hundreds of pages of
specifications and send in comments. It's a unique process," McNichols said.


With consensus development, Sun completed and published the Java Database Connectivity
and JavaBeans specifications in less than six months after Sun engineers had released
initial specifications, she said.


Now Sun must decide which parts of the Java platform it can submit to the ISO/IEC
bodies. "There are some things we know are cooked, and some things that still need
some work," McNichols said.


Besides the Java language, Sun's Java platform includes the Java class libraries, Java
virtual machine, JavaBeans component architecture and Java products such as JavaPC, which
probably would not be part of the initial specification submission, McNichols said.


If Sun in the next 60 days can resolve the marketing issues raised by the international
standards community, "then maybe Java can move relatively quickly" into the
ISO/IEC standards arena, Hogan said.


Tim Hoechst, Oracle Corp. vice president of technology for government, education and
health sectors, called Java "one of most innovative and rapidly growing technologies
we've had in decades." But he's ambivalent about the need for a formalized Java
standard.


Maybe standardizing it would "let us take better advantage of Java," he said,
which depends on IBM Corp. doing Java in the same way as Microsoft. "Java will work
well only if that happens, but I'm not sure Java has to be officially a standard for that
to happen."


NIST's Hogan agreed that standards per se are not the point. NIST has offered its
technical experts to help develop conformance testing tools for Java standards, whether
they are de facto or de jure, he said.


DISA's Smith said the DISA Center for Standards also doesn't believe in Java standards
for standards' sake.


"We're interested in the results of standards," Smith said.


Hogan said he could not recall any information technology that has captured public
interest the way Java has.


"When did you last see Cobol or Fortran or C or C++ or Ada mentioned on TV in the
homes of America?" 


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