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Rival Java consortium formed

A group of companies that don't want to play by Sun Microsystems' Java rules have formed an outside work into an outfit called the J Consortium.

A group of companies that don't want to play by Sun Microsystems' Java rules have formed an outside work group into an outfit called the J Consortium.

The companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and NewMonics, have formalized an ongoing effort to set a standard for a component of Java called "real-time" extensions. Real-time extensions are features that enable Java to work in devices like factory floor robots which must respond to commands immediately (in "real time").

J Consortium members say they're unhappy with Sun's dominance and that Sun detracts from the effort to actually build products, according to Kelvin Nilson, chief technology officer for NewMonics and technology chairman for the J Consortium.

Sun, with a parallel and competing effort under way, says its development process is open and objects strongly to the outside effort.

Either way, the formation of the J Consortium is the next chapter in a growing book of stories about industry wrangling over control of Java, the "write once, run anywhere" technology that has become popular enough that different companies want to nudge the future of Java in directions favorable to their own plans.

The J Consortium announcement comes the same day Sun announced a major change in strategy in the effort to make the entire Java package an international standard. That effort is much broader than the real-time extensions issue.

The J Consortium is an incorporated version of the Real-Time Java Working Group, Nilson said. Incorporation gives the effort a better ability to set a real-time Java standard. Some members of the group, including Aonix, also are members of the Sun effort.

"Up until now, we had no rules of engagement. We had shared, common objectives, but we didn't have the spokespeople or a set of rules for sharing intellectual property," Nilson said today.

The J Consortium expects only to deal with the real-time extensions to Java, not the rest of the Java technology, Nilson said.

While Nilson heads the J Consortium technical work, HP's Wendy Fong is the chairperson, and Dave Wood of Aonix leads marketing.

Current J Consortium members include Omron, Perennial, and Plum Hall. More than 25 members have "expressed intent to join the J Consortium," including Ericsson, Octera, and Transvirtual Technologies.

Although Sun foe Microsoft also is a member, Nilson said the company "really plays a low profile." However, the next Real-Time Java Working Group meeting is on Microsoft's campus on May 10 and 11.

Unsurprisingly, Sun isn't happy with the J Consortium. "It's a last, desperation attempt to try to revive what's going on with Chai [HP's Java virtual machine], or maybe to derail true standardization of Java technology," said Java software president Alan Baratz in a conference call today.

Nilson countered that Sun's policies were what led to the split-off group in the first place.

"I would say that to a certain extent, Java has already been fragmented, and it's because of the stranglehold that Sun puts on the Java technology," Nilson said. "There are something between 10 and 20 'clean room' Javas. Each of us has been forced to create our own diverse way of working around the problems that Sun has put [up]." "Clean room" refers to Java-like software that's been developed independently of Sun's source code and is marketed as a separate product.

Sun's real-time effort is flawed because "the whole process is controlled by a single company [Sun], a company that does not necessarily understand real-time and does not necessarily understand the real-time community," Nilson said.

The Real-Time Java Working Group made an effort to have the National Committee for Information Technology Standards shepherd a real-time specification, but NCITS members, including Sun, voted the proposal down. Afterward, HP vowed to continue the fight.

Sun, meanwhile, set up its own Real-Time Expert Group and appointed an IBM staffer to lead the effort.

The Real-Time Expert Group was the first example of Sun's new Java Community Process, which opens up the Java specification process to more outside influence.

The J Consortium first will work to finish its own real-time Java standard, then will submit it to a standards body--possibly NCITS again, Nilson said. "We hope that we've created the beginnings of a long-term relationship with NCITS," he said.