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MS, Compaq, HP: Sun closed on Java

Several of high-tech's biggest names oppose Sun Microsystems' plan to turn Java into an officially recognized standard.

Microsoft (MSFT), Compaq Computer (CPQ), and Hewlett-Packard (HWP) say that Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) isn't being totally upfront about its plan to turn Java into an officially recognized standard.

The three companies have all come out to publicly oppose the plan, saying that Sun wants to get credit for making Java an open standard while really maintaining control of the language. Their opposition will probably not derail Sun's plan but it is clear that the company has not persuaded everyone that it is sincere about making Java a truly open standard.

The companies voiced their opposition on a Web site maintained by a joint technical committee of the two standards bodies that are considering the Java standard proposal: the International Standards Organization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

The committee is accepting comments from high-tech companies on Sun's proposal until May 6, and will vote on it sometime in July.

In March, Sun announced its plan to turn Java into an official rather than a de facto standard. By turning it into a formal standard, Sun hopes to spread the use of Java, particularly among governments and European companies, many of which will work only with officially sanctioned technologies.

The opposition of the three companies is not likely to derail Sun's plan: their opposition is only one factor in influencing the single vote for the United States. More than 25 member countries belonging to ISO/IEC will eventually cast votes on Sun's plan.

Microsoft, Compaq, and HP all expressed concern that the process by which Java is upgraded and improved will not really be open.

Sun has effectively applied to become a standards body in itself, or in ISO/IEC jargon, a "publicly available submitter" (PAS). A number of nonprofit, membership-based organizations, such as the X/Open and the Video Electronics Standards Association, are PAS submitters, but Sun would be the first vendor to receive that distinction.

"Sun, like any other for-profit corporation in the computer software or hardware industry, has no mandate to achieve broad consensus," reads a letter from Microsoft senior vice president Brad Silverberg commenting on Sun's proposal. "By the terms of its corporate charter, its principal focus is maximizing shareholder value by competing with other companies for market share."

Sun executives, however, say they do intend to keep Java open to contributions from other companies. "I believe in the rightness of our cause," said Jim Mitchell, vice president of technology and architecture at Sun's JavaSoft division. "I believe that our process is as open as any of the standards processes and has the additional benefit of being speedy."

Microsoft, Compaq, and HP also criticized Sun's proposal to retain control of the valuable Java trademark. But Mitchell said that the ISO/IEC committee was happy to leave the trademark under Sun's control.

Officials at ISO did not return phone calls today.

Not surprisingly, IBM (IBM), one of Sun's closet Java allies, says it will support Sun's plan even though IBM expressed some of the same concerns over trademark issues as the other companies did.

"Sun has chosen an unusual but appropriate vehicle to bring Java technologies forward as international standards," reads IBM's commentary on the Sun plan.