Java no closer to standardisation despite meeting

The Java Study Group's informal meeting this week to discuss the potential standardisation of Sun Microsystems' Java programming language left Microsoft representatives expressing their disappointment over lack of progress. But some observers are wondering if a rush to standardise all Java services is a good idea anyway

The Java Study Group's informal meeting this week to discuss the potential standardisation of Sun Microsystems' Java programming language left Microsoft representatives expressing their disappointment over lack of progress.

But the group, formed in September as a division of the International Standards Organization (ISO), warned in advance that the meeting would be procedural and not results-oriented.

The meeting at Sun's JavaSoft division headquarters in Cupertino, California, gathered vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard to discuss the potential of standardising Java, its related technologies and other Internet programming languages.

An official from Microsoft says the company is frustrated by what it interprets as Sun's lack of interest in moving Java - specifically class libraries, the most contentious issue - closer to the standardisation process. Microsoft also claims Sun's representative spent little time with the group during the two-day meeting that ended Wednesday.

"Even though the meeting was in Sun's building, they only deigned to attend for about half an hour," says Charles Fitzgerald, a program manager at Microsoft who attended the meeting. "They seriously hedged their comments about their likely involvement. They made it pretty clear they had no intention of actually standardising Java."

JavaSoft denies such allegations, while restating its commitment to eventually standardise Java.

"We are actively involved in investigating the best way to work with the appropriate standards organisations," says a company representative. "We view the ISO meetings of the past two days as one part of a very complex process."

Fitzgerald says the group made three decisions during the gathering:

• To write a letter to Sun urging the company to open all aspects of Java to standardisation.

• To appoint an editor to compile all technical issues associated with Java.

• To set up subcommittees to tackle future issues.

Officials from IBM who attended the meeting could not be reached for comment.

Last November, JavaSoft announced its intent to submit Java technologies to standardization processes, but the company is waiting until various pieces of the technology mature, the representative says.

JavaSoft may choose to submit different portions of Java - such as the Java Virtual Machine, Java Beans and the JavaOS - to different standardisation groups, or a collection of groups may work together on the project, the representative said. During the next few months, JavaSoft will decide on a time frame for standardizing Java technologies.

JavaSoft's efforts to standardise Java will be closely watched and criticised. The language has become increasingly strategic, not only to Sun, but to most major industry vendors that have pinned their Internet strategies in some degree to Java.

Microsoft's complaints that JavaSoft is dragging its feet are the opening shots in what will become an increasingly bitter battle this second quarter, observers predict.

JavaSoft officials privately acknowledge they expect "a number of fistfights" concerning the openness issue and the pace with which Java moves through the standards process. They liken such conflicts to the continued disagreements over the pace with which Microsoft moves its ActiveX technology forward with the Open Group, a standards body that recently assumed stewardship of the Microsoft code.

In addition to the political bickering, JavaSoft may run into difficulties when standardising not the Java language itself but the related technologies, according to one analyst.

"There is already a very detailed spec for the [Java] language now. Most people think the language is well done," says John Rymer, an industry analyst at Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rymer suspects the arguments will come out of the implementation of such things as compilers and class libraries.

If JavaSoft standardised such services as Java class libraries, Java development could be shackled, Rymer says.

"Once you get into freezing services, that's where it gets dangerous," Rymer says. "What if you freeze them and two years down the road you realize you made a mistake?"

Microsoft's Fitzgerald says he got the impression that Sun was not willing to submit Java class libraries to the process.

"It was heartening that the thing is getting going," Fitzgerald said. "The question is, are they standardising or giving lip service to standardising?"

JavaSoft, a division of Sun Microsystems Inc., can be reached at http://www.javasoft.com/. Microsoft can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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