Sun "failed" to respond to a December 1 deadline, and the chairman of a group trying to make Java into an industry standard said the effort might go ahead without Sun, according to a memo obtained by CNET News.com. The memo, written by IBM's Michael Wheatley, raises the prospect that the standard could diverge from the desires of Sun, creator of Java.
Sun contends it has until later this month to meet the deadline.
Standardization is the process of defining exactly how a technology functions. This broadens the technology's appeal, because it makes it easier to adopt. But Sun has struggled with how much control to give up to others, and how much to retain.
Java software theoretically allows programs written in the Java language to run on any Java-enabled device. It has caught on for use in large servers and, increasingly, gadgets such as cell phones that connect to the Internet.
Sun has been trying to turn Java into an international standard with the encouragement of companies such as IBM, which believe the move would make Java more appealing to governments and businesses reluctant to adopt a technology under the control of a single company.
IBM was among the earliest licensees of Java and is heavily committed to the software, particularly in its e-commerce products. But Big Blue wants to loosen Sun's grip on the software to ensure that all the companies in the standardization process have equal influence over the software, said Scott Hebner, program director e-business technology at IBM.
IBM wants to "enable the ability to cooperate on standards, then compete on implementation. It's not optimal to do that when you have one vendor having greater influence than others," Hebner said.
"We're still hopeful that this is going to move forward," Hebner added. "There's still time for this all to get back on track."
Sun initially tried to standardize Java through a subgroup of the International Standards Organization, but backed out and started over with a different organization called ECMA, formerly known as the European Computer Manufacturers Association.
Sun proposed to ECMA a process that would have put the future of Java in the hands of the Sun-centric "Java community process," but ECMA stripped that language out and instead put itself in control. The change opened the way for Microsoft to try to exert its influence over the standard. Antagonism between Microsoft and Sun over Java is longstanding: In a high-profile lawsuit, Sun has accused Microsoft of trying to corrupt Java by making it run differently on Windows machines.
The ECMA group called TC41 has as its primary goal the task of developing "a standard for a cross-platform computing environment based upon the Java 2 Standard Edition Version 1.2.2," ECMA said. Sun "failed" to submit Java 1.2.2 to the committee in October, "claiming it had unresolved intellectual property rights issues regarding the specification," Wheatley said in an email to TC41 members and the head of ECMA, Jan van den Beld.
The ECMA Coordinating Committee requested that Sun submit its clarification by December 1, but Sun chose not to, saying the request was outside the authority of the committee, a company representative said. "The date we are looking at is the [ECMA] General Assembly [meeting] on [the] 16th in Germany," the Sun representative said.
Accordingly, ECMA management yesterday "requested that TC41 consider proceeding with its program of work without the Sun submission," he said. Java is well understood in the marketplace and well documented in books and other publicly available materials, he said.
Wheatley asked members of the standardization committee to respond by Dec. 8 whether they are willing to go ahead with standardization without Sun's Java submission.
Asked if Sun is still committed to the Java standardization process through ECMA, a Sun representative said only: "We're still working to clarify the rules governing protection of intellectual property rights."