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Sun thinks Java standard will fly

Opposition from a growing array of U.S. companies and organizations won't derail its plan to make Java an official standard, Sun thinks.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) remains confident that its plan to make Java an official standard will fly despite opposition from a growing array of U.S. companies and organizations.

Sun executives said today that there is enough support for the plan overseas to ensure its victory when an international joint technical committee (JTC) votes on it in July.

Executives did say today that they will amend their plan slightly to answer some of the criticisms of its opponents.

More than half a dozen companies have come out against Sun's efforts to make Java an official standard, criticizing the Sun for not relinquishing enough control of the technology.

Late yesterday, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the National Committee for Information Technology Standards weighed in against Sun's plans. Two others, the Defense Department and Digital Equipment, did not say that they intend to vote against Sun's proposal but did express some of the same reservations as opponents.

The company will need all the international help it can get. Lucent Technologies (LU), AMP (AMP), Apple Computer (AAPL), Texas Instruments (TXN), Compaq (CPQ), and Hewlett-Packard have suggested they will vote against Sun's standardization plan in a U.S. vote in June.

Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) are also against the plan but do not have voting rights.

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

Most of the controversy surrounds Sun's wish to become, in ISO/IEC jargon, a "publicly available submitter" (PAS). A PAS acts like a standards body itself, accepting submissions to improve and update a technology and passing them onto the joint technical committee of ISO/IEC for final approval.

Critics are worried that, given control of the submissions process, Sun will not make Java truly open. So far, only nonprofit, membership-based organizations such as X/Open and the Video Electronics Standards Association have been approved for PAS status. Sun is the first company to apply for 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."

Today Jim Mitchell, vice president of technology and architecture at Sun's JavaSoft division, said that Sun is still playing by the rules, since there is nothing within the joint technical committee's bylaws that prohibits a company from becoming a PAS. Mitchell said that the reason that Sun wants to become a PAS is that most traditional standards bodies do not move quickly enough to keep up with market demands and innovation.

"If this was to go into any standards organization it would take two to five years," Mitchell said. "The reason JTC set up PAS is they were becoming irrelevant in a world that is moving so fast."

Whether the companies' opposition will derail Sun's plan is not sure, but Sun clearly has not persuaded everyone that it is sincere about making Java a truly open standard.

It's hard to predict whether the opposition will scotch Sun's plan: their opposition is only one factor in determining the single U.S. vote. However, many of the members of the U.S. committee also have overseas branches and could influence the votes of other countries.

At least one country, Switzerland, has already decided to vote against Sun's plan, sources said.

Compaq, HP, and others 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.

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 that 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.