Sun seeks alternative Java standards route

In an effort to maintain tight control over Java's evolution, Sun Microsystems has changed standards horses in midstream, while professing the same ultimate goal. Citing objections to recent rule changes made by the ISO's Joint Technical Committee Sun has opted to pursue the technology's standardisation first through the European Computer Manufacturers' Association (ECMA).

In an effort to maintain tight control over Java's evolution, Sun Microsystems has changed standards horses in midstream, while professing the same ultimate goal.

Citing objections to recent rule changes made by the Joint Technical Committee (JTC 1) -- an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)-affiliated committee -- Sun has opted to pursue the technology's standardisation first through the European Computer Manufacturers' Association (ECMA), rather than via the JTC 1.

Sun has submitted the Java 2 platform specification to ECMA for formal presentation next month at the group's meeting in Kyoto, Japan. ECMA will then convene a technical committee to generate by October a draft standard that will be voted on by the ECMA general assembly in December.

ECMA is then expected to forward the resulting standard to the ISO for fast-track adoption, according to Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java Software division, in Mountain View, Calif.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard's J Consortium this week announced the formation of an industry group for real-time/embedded Java standards. Sun officials dismissed the move as an attempt to fragment the Java developer and user communities, and noted plans to submit its own real-time Java specification to ECMA.

ECMA has agreed to play a minimal, mostly clerical and bug-fixing role in handling Java standards, whereas the JTC 1 would have held sway over more sweeping aspects of future Java developments, according to Sun officials. Sun claims the JTC 1 changes would usurp authority from the current Sun-led coalition driving the evolution of Java.

"We typically don't leave the invention of new things to standards bodies or consortia," Baratz said.

Despite the contentious politics surrounding Java standardisation efforts, Sun sees standardization as critical to both public-sector adoption of Java and the incorporation of Java within other industry standards, such as interactive digital television technology, Baratz said.

Should ISO standardisation not materialise, Sun would be content with ECMA recognition, according to Baratz.

"We would like [Java] to be an ISO standard, but if it made it [through] ECMA and not the ISO, we would be quite pleased with that," Baratz said.

At issue with the ISO was the evolving definition of the Publicly Available Standard (PAS) submission process through which Sun was to have proposed Java standards to the ISO, and the maintenance and control of those standards.

Sun was the only company with the ability to submit technology via the PAS process. Critics charge that just as Sun's PAS submission plans were designed to railroad the standards process and push proprietary technology under the guise of consensus standards, the company's ECMA strategy guarantees a rubber stamp.

"It's maybe a little harsh to call this just a rubber stamp, [but] Sun's groping around for a standards body is a statement that it finds the traditional mechanisms for open standards insufficient for Java to do what it has to in the marketplace. It has to go out and forge a new way," said Eric Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass.

More information on the JTC 1 is at web.ansi.org/rooms/room_22/public/news.html. ECMA can be reached at www.ecma.ch.

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