Last November, Sun Microsystems won approval from the International Standards Organization (ISO) to be the "recognized submitter" of Java for standards consideration, effectively giving it control over what goes into that standard.
But HP's plans to market its own Java Virtual Machine--along with Microsoft's earlier decision to market a JVM tailored to Windows--calls into question the value of that ISO standard Sun succeeded in controlling, according to analysts.
"Sun is not going to achieve the level of control it wanted," said Dave Folger, analyst with Meta Group. "The company tried to make itself into the Java standards agency."
The consequences of losing that control could be a splintering of Java standards, Folger said. Two different standards may emerge--one full-fledged version for desktop and server environments and one stripped-down version, such as what HP has developed, for embedded systems in such appliances as printers and phones.
Indeed, HP is pushing to get an independent body to oversee the Java standard for embedded devices, a move that is being welcomed by other companies.
"We have talked to several companies, and the response has been very favorable," said Joe Beyers, general manager of HP's Internet software business unit. "It's clear that there has been a lot of pent-up views on this subject."
Beyers said he had designated HP's Jim Bell, former chief executive of the Open Group standards body, to lead HP's efforts for an embedded Java standard. Beyers also said HP wants to cooperate with Sun and other companies on standards.
"We ought to look at the existing standards processes and tune them to this situation," he said. "We are not necessarily talking about a new standards organization."
He described an acceptable standards process as one that solicits input from multiple parties, can move quickly, and will result in published specifications that can have several implementations, not just Sun's.
"If Sun wants to reposition Java as their proprietary standard, that's a whole different ball game. If it's open in the embedded space, let's make it open," he said.
HP would prefer that the standard still be called Java but it would consider another name if Sun doesn't cooperate, according to Beyers.
But even within those two broad categories of Java, HP's decision to strike out on its own could inspire multiple versions of Java that only use the official standards as a reference.
"There are a number of very competent engineering operations that can do the same thing HP has done," said Forrester Research analyst Stan Dolberg. "Sun is going to have to work to prevent other companies from going off and inventing their own virtual machines."
But the ISO seal of approval may not matter much in the final analysis.
"ISO approval is beside the point," Dolberg said. "It's window dressing. The market is driving the standardization around Java, and the benefit of having the ISO watermark a year after the market has already decided is more PR than anything else. The market is driving the standard."