Sun, IBM square off in license spat

Sun introduces Java 2 Enterprise Edition, but few of its business partners sign up to back the technology and several are unhappy with it--most notably Sun's biggest Java ally, IBM.

Sun Microsystems may have pressed ahead too fast when it introduced a collection of Java software designed to run sophisticated Internet operations.

Sun introduced Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) this week, but few of its business partners have signed up to back the technology and several are unhappy with it--most notably Sun's biggest Java ally, IBM.

Java 2 Enterprise Edition is a collection of nine software components developed over the past year that gives programmers a uniform way to build business software using the Java programming language. But Big Blue would rather offer J2EE software dish by dish instead of being required to sell the full nine-course meal.

"They made it to be too big," said Patricia Seybold Group analyst Anne Thomas Manes, referring to the nine pieces of technology that comprise J2EE. Although Sun believes its Java partners will come around to its point of view, Manes said it's possible that pressure from partners could force Sun to adjust its strategy.

A Sun spokeswoman acknowledged that only about 10 out of Sun's 60 Java partners have signed up to license Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

The objections to J2EE are not limited to its size. Another major obstacle is that Sun requires that J2EE licensees give Sun a royalty of 3 percent of the revenue from J2EE products, sources said.

"The royalty and licensing terms have been getting in the way of keeping together those who support Java," said a source close to IBM. "Keeping Oracle, IBM, Sun and smaller vendors like GemStone together is how we'll win against Microsoft. [Sun] may be losing sight of that."

Software firms that are close to signing a licensing agreement said Sun has been willing to negotiate the royalty and licensing terms, said executives from several software firms who declined to be named.

J2EE competes against a collection of Microsoft technologies called Windows DNA. But instead of presenting a united front against Microsoft, IBM put a damper on Sun's release of the new Java standard by announcing it will not support the branding of Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

Java, theoretically, allows a program written in the Java language to run on any computer, regardless of the differences between one computer and the next. J2EE extends this concept for use in servers.

Altogether there are nine server-oriented Java technologies that a software company such as IBM or BEA Systems will have to include in order to win the right from Sun to use the "J2EE" brand. The nine components guarantee certain abilities, such as fetching information from databases, sending information through electronic messaging services, or running prepackaged Java programs called Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs).

Hewlett-Packard, while supporting the components that make up J2EE, still hasn't signed a license with Sun to use J2EE. "The negotiations are taking a lot longer than the amount of time allowed before the announcement was made," said Dana Marks, program director of Java technology at HP. "Perhaps [Sun] thought people would sign up a lot faster than they did."

Regardless of whether HP does sign that license, though, the company will offer J2EE-like capabilities through its own work and through partnerships with other companies, he said.

Among companies that sell just software, SilverStream, Persistence and Bluestone who have signed licensing deals, and GemStone and BEA Systems are among the companies who are close to an agreement, sources said.

Sun would be better off if it used with J2EE the model it adopted for Java 2 Micro Edition, which is aimed at small gadgets such as cell phones, Manes said. With J2ME, a basic package can be supplemented with more software geared for different "profiles," such as a Java-enabled TV or car.

"One of the problems associated with building J2EE environments is that you have to assemble a great number of technologies in order to qualify as being J2EE" compliant, Manes said. "I, as a buyer, may not want to have to pay" for technologies that won't be needed.

Though the big companies have found fault with Sun's all-or-nothing approach, it does make some sense, Manes said, because it assures customers that the individual components will work together.

Sun isn't bothered by its partners' concerns and will strike deals with all of them, said Rick Saletta, Sun's senior product marketing manager for J2EE.

"There's no urgency. There's always companies who have unique issues. We'll work them out one by one," he said.

J2EE comes with compatibility tests to ensure that business software written with J2EE can run on any application server, software that helps companies build e-commerce Web sites.

Without a license, the software firms won't get access to the compatibility tests, said Bill Roth, Sun's product line manager for J2EE. The compatibility tests are very expensive, Manes said.

An application server company executive close to licensing J2EE said he wants assurances that Sun would continue to keep the standards process open. Sun, IBM, Oracle and other software firms worked well together to build the specification, and he fears that some day Sun might alter the process and do it all themselves, he said.

"Sun works under a loose consortium model. We've had great success in collaboration and innovation, and that pace needs to continue. But there's the potential that some future administration at Sun will try to bend the standards effort," the executive said.

Sun has set up a special office under George Paolini to deal with partner concerns--concerns that have risen with Sun's abandonment of a plan that would have given much more control over Java to other companies.

IBM supports the technology that makes up Java 2 Enterprise Edition, but its main beef is in the branding. "We agreed to collaborate on the standard and complete on the implementation, but we don't want to put a Sun brand on our product," said the source close to IBM.

But Sun, IBM and other Java backers say they believe they will soon iron out their differences.

"This is way too important. We will figure out how to work on this together," the source close to IBM said.

Kenny Rubin, chief operating officer at Secant Technologies, said he's hopeful IBM will get back on board with J2EE.

"If I'm Sun Microsystems, making sure that people support that brand is my No. 1 priority," said Rubin, who plans to license the technology. "Anything they do that IBM doesn't support hurts the brand."

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