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Sun feels the Java heat from rivals

IBM rains on a parade of Java announcements, saying it won't support a major Java software strategy from Sun and will try to diminish the amount of control Sun has over the technology.

When it comes to Java, Sun Microsystems can't seem to avoid a fight.

A tussle with IBM is the latest in a series of legal and technological wranglings Sun has faced with its now-popular Java software. IBM, a keen supporter of Java, is adding a new chapter to the acrimony that already has erupted with Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

Sun announced several course corrections today. For one thing, the company will remove licensing and royalty payments for the desktop version of the software, Java 2 Standard Edition, beginning Jan. 31.

Sun also released the Linux version of Java, which has been under development for months at the Blackdown group. And Sun reorganized its Java division, uniting Java and Jini groups, shuffling executives and moving some top Java researchers to Sun Labs.

But IBM has rained on the parade of announcements coming from the Java Business Expo today, saying it won't support a major Java software strategy from Sun and trying to diminish the amount of control Sun has over Java.

Sun invented Java as a method of writing software that could run on any type of computer. This feat is accomplished by running the Java programs within a Java "runtime environment," special software that intercepts Java commands and translates them into terms the computer can understand.

Java initially showed up as a way to download programs over the Internet to Web browsers. But since then, Sun has spread Java into server computers and has begun trying to encourage its use in devices such as TV set-top boxes and cell phones.

The friction between IBM and Sun is part of a number of growing pains the software is experiencing as it matures from being an experimental technology into a product that companies all over the globe use in running their businesses. The wrangling, though acrimonious, indicates the importance Java has attained in various companies' business plans.

Hewlett-Packard also has disagreed with Sun's plans. HP has steadfastly refused to license Java for use in gadgets such as printers or handheld information appliances, chafing against Sun's licensing requirements and intellectual property terms. Instead, HP promotes an independently created clone of Java called Chai.

Sun and IBM differ on a collection of Java technologies designed for use in servers called Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), which began shipping today. Big Blue--arguably the company most interested in using Java as an underpinning for Internet business on servers--isn't backing the concept.

"We won't be using it. We already have Websphere. We don't need to do a J2EE," said Rod Smith, vice president of Java at IBM and the person who replaced Pat Sueltz when she took over Sun's Java operations. Websphere is a collection of IBM's e-business software, including development tools, Java software, the Apache Web server and other components.

Database company Informix, though, has different feelings. Informix will make its database software comply with the J2EE standards, the company said in a statement.

One of the biggest issues facing Java right now is standardization of the software, a process that Sun has embarked upon that would give other companies a much stronger position in defining Java and determining the future direction of the software. IBM and Sun are at loggerheads over this standardization process, with is currently hung up in a committee of standards body ECMA over intellectual property issues.

IBM believes all companies should have an equal say in Java and that Sun has too much control. "It's a disagreement we're having with Sun about this," Smith said.

Sun executives were not available for comment, other than to say the company will be making a definitive statement on standardization later today.

ECMA currently is focusing on making a standard out of the core components of Java. But in the future, the body should also take other parts under its wing, said David Boloker, Java chief technologist at IBM.

"As Java matures in one segment, we believe it needs to be standardized," he said.

Though IBM voted in favor of a proposal to figure out how to standardize Java without Sun's help, such a move doesn't raise the prospect of splitting Java into conflicting versions, Smith said.