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MS-Sun: Enough already

Most Netizens would like Microsoft and Sun to end their long-running squabbles over Internet standards, according to a poll of NEWS.COM readers.

Most Netizens would like Microsoft (MSFT) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW) to end their long-running squabbles over Internet standards, according to a poll of NEWS.COM readers.

The latest brouhaha between the two companies broke out last week when Microsoft criticized Sun for all but ignoring a meeting of the International Standards Organization. The meeting of ISO's Java Study Group, which was attended by IBM and Digital Equipment, among others, was convened last week to discuss how Java might become an official standard, codified and commonly agreed on by several vendors.

But the feud and others that preceded it have frustrated users who fear that the company's disputes are confusing an already-complex standards process. In response to a NEWS.COM poll that began Friday and continued through the weekend, the majority of respondents, 56 percent, said they are "turned off" by the quarreling between Microsoft and Sun.

At the same time, though, some users appear to enjoy a good fight: Forty-four percent of respondents indicated that they're not bothered by the feud.

Microsoft and Sun got testy with each other last week after Microsoft called several technology press reporters to complain that Sun representatives attended the Java Study Group meeting for only half an hour. Microsoft interpreted this to mean that Sun is not sincere in its Java standard efforts.

"The fact that [Sun division] JavaSoft deigned to show up for half an hour at a standards meeting in their own building, when people flew in from all over the world, suggests that they're not really committed to standardizing Java," said Charles Fitzgerald, a program manager at Microsoft who was at the meeting. "My guess is that you'll see ISO move ahead anyway."

Sun representatives said the meeting was only preliminary and that Microsoft is making something out of nothing. "It's a little silly that Microsoft would question our commitment based on something that happened at one meeting," said Lisa Poulson, a spokeswoman for JavaSoft. "This meeting was one point in a complex process. This meeting was intended to be a discussion, not a meeting with conclusions drawn."

Yet Sun hasn't been above carping to the press about Microsoft either. For example, Sun made its own round of phone calls to the press last October questioning Microsoft's motivations about making its ActiveX component architecture an open standard.

This week's flap is in fact only the latest incident in a long series of squabbles between these two companies about how to turn their proprietary technologies into public Internet standards. For the press and some Java users, the infighting between Internet companies over standards has become a fascinating sideshow, but it is beginning to contribute confusion in an already convoluted process.

"It's interesting reading, but I don't lose a lot of sleep over it," said John Gawkowski, vice president of marketing at Coris, a division of R.R. Donnelley and Sons. "It's a lot of positioning and words that won't necessarily be backed up by actions. In the end, the marketplace will decide what happens [to Java]."

The ISO representative who organized the Java Study Group, Bob Mathis, said he was satisfied with this week's meeting and that Microsoft was wrong to expect any immediate action.

"Everything went fine," Mathis said. "If you go to a meeting with entirely wrong expectations, you'll probably be disappointed. Everybody's saying Sun has to make up its mind up [about turning Java into a standard]. If Sun had handed me the documents and said, 'Turn this into a standard,' it wouldn't be moving any faster than it is now."

Microsoft has also feuded with Netscape Communications. The software giant has been a fierce critic of Netscape for delaying the release of its JavaScript language to a standards body. As with Java, an official JavaScript standard is intended to avoid the creation of similar but incompatible versions of the language.

Last November, Netscape ended up choosing ECMA, a European standards organization that focuses on programming languages, to handle JavaScript, but Microsoft said Netscape had dragged its feet much too long.

While Java users are concerned that there should be a single standard for the technology, they seem to believe that the squabbles between Sun and Microsoft will end up having little impact.

For the record, the participants at the Java Study Group meeting this week did manage to agree on several minor issues.

The group agreed to send a letter to Sun that will define the scope of the Java standardization process to include the Java Virtual Machine, the Java language itself, and the core Java programming interfaces. The group also named an editor to compile a technical issues list and created a U.S. subcommittee responsible for shepherding the Java standard.

The group plans to meet again, either in April in California or in June in London.