In a vote released today, 20 member nations in the ISO/IEC JTC 1 (the International Committee for Information Technology Standardization) approved Sun's application to become a "recognized submitter" of Java. The United States and China opposed Sun's application, two countries abstained, and three nations did not vote.
The vote is a key win in a long campaign for Sun, which now can control much of what goes into the Java standard. The company declined to say today when it would submit the specification, but JavaSoft vice president Jim Mitchell said the submission would take longer than three months because of its complexity.
Before the standard is submitted, JavaSoft must translate existing language into the ISO format. It also will circulate the specification among licensees and post it on its Web site. Once submitted to the standards body, the spec itself must be voted on and approved by ISO members.
Gaining status as an ISO standard would broaden Java's market because some government agencies and universities won't buy products unless they are based on ISO standards.
JavaSoft president Alan Baratz hailed the vote as a vindication of Sun's process for making Java an accepted standard, and he reaffirmed his company's intention to remain in charge of updates once ISO accepts Java as a standard.
"The Java platform will continue to evolve in exactly the same way it has as to this time, through a process we define," Baratz said. "We are not talking about the evolution of the Java platform being done by ISO or a compromise. The industry trusts Sun to do the right thing, and that's exactly what we're doing."
But analysts were mixed about the significance of today's announcement. "The industry needs a few alternatives to the Microsoft platform, and Java increases the likelihood of having those alternatives," said Jeff Kinz, research manager at IDC's Internet and application development group. "Even separate of that issue, Java's architecture is very useful. It provides a nice environment for deploying distributed applications."
But Larry Perlstein of Dataquest questioned whether having a Java standard will affect its adoption, noting that programming languages COBOL and C++ haven't achieved ISO standard status yet.
"Here are languages that have been around for ten years or more, and I don't know how much of a difference that has made," said Perlstein.
This is the second round of voting on whether Sun could submit Java in this manner. Sun altered its proposal after the first go-around to address objections raised to its original application. Still, 13 of the 20 votes to give Sun special "submitter" status came with comments or qualifications.
The U.S. delegation actually favored Sun's Java proposal by a vote of 15-10, but it didn't have the required two-thirds approval. The U.S. opposition came from Microsoft and others that objected to Sun controlling both the Java standard and the trademark as well as how the standard would evolve.
"We believe that if the comments are addressed, Java will be substantially more open than if the Sun proposal had gone through," said Cornelius Willis, a Microsoft spokesman. "This is one of the first steps in an involved process.
"Like many competitors and Sun allies, we think it would be a great thing if Java were a standard and we could participate in the evolution. Today we can't," he added.
JavaSoft's Baratz, defending Sun's strategy for making Java a standard, urged Microsoft to submit its technology to ISO to become a standard. "I would love for Microsoft to be half as open as Sun has been on Java."
Giving a single company submitter status is unusual for ISO. Normally. such status is given to trade groups or consortia. Similar status has been given to X-Open, DAVIC (Digital Audio Visual Industry Council), VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association), and IrDA (Infrared Data Association).