Could Sueltz bring end to Sun, HP Java fight?

The appointment of Pat Sueltz, who formerly led IBM's Java efforts, could well signal the first step by Sun toward a more accommodating approach to companies like HP over Java-licensing conflicts.

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Stephen Shankland
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Naming a new leader of Sun Microsystems' software operations could open the door to a reconciliation between Sun and Hewlett-Packard in their acrimonious Java fight.

The appointment of Pat Sueltz, who formerly led IBM's Java efforts, could well signal the first step by Sun toward a more accommodating approach to companies like HP over Java-licensing conflicts. Sun announced yesterday that Sueltz will take over the company's Java and Solaris software operations, a post left vacant since Alan Baratz's departure nearly two months ago.

"I think IBM is trying in general to be the interested-party arbiter of some of these disputes," and some of that philosophy could carry on into Sueltz's new job at Sun, said Giga Information Group analyst Mike Gilpin.

Java is more than just a programming language. It's also a software technology that lets programs run on all sorts of different devices. HP's Java clone, called Chai, offers the same advantage, letting programmers write software, such as a Web browser, that runs on pagers, printers, handheld computers, and other gadgets.

With Chai, HP is trying to strike the right balance of compatibility with Java and independence from Sun. HP has created Chai instead of licensing Java, because it says Java is too big for gadgets, too expensive to license, and requires that companies give up intellectual property rights over to Sun.

HP's unwillingness to license Java has been a thorn in Sun's side for more than a year. But in interviews yesterday, executives from Sun and HP indicated that there could be room to mend fences.

"Pat has a good understanding of the partnerships that will be needed to make Java...acceptable in the long term," said Ed Zander, Sun's president, during a conference call announcing Sueltz's new post.

"We've had good relations with her in the past," Jim Bell, general manager of HP's embedded software organization, said in an interview. Sueltz had been in charge of IBM's Java operations. "We're hopeful she can be a positive force in bringing together those who would like to see rapid growth in the embedded software market."

"He [Bell] is sending signals to say he's open to a new overture from Sun to try to patch things up," Gilpin said of Bell's statement. Sun might now be more receptive to those signals. "Bringing in somebody from the outside helps make it less of a Sun veteran men's club. Some of the way things have been done in the past was attributable to the management team, though not necessarily Alan [Baratz] individually."

Bell said HP hasn't signed a deal with Sun, because HP needs software sooner and leaner than Sun can provide, but others think the issue might be simpler than that.

"I think it's all money," said Anne Thomas, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group who heard that Sun is charging as much as $3 per device to use Java technology. "The reason they're [not licensing Java from Sun] is because they don't want to pay those royalty fees Sun is asking for."

Fighting for attention
With dueling announcements yesterday, Sun and HP tried to advance their respective Java software products for use in gadgets.

Analysts say that Sun's Java is making inroads in the gadget market, with agreements to use the software in Palm Pilots and other devices. But HP believes its technology is cheaper, better, and farther ahead.

Both companies, though, agree that glorious rewards await the company that can power Internet-connected devices such as car navigation systems and telephones. "We think that in a few years, there will be more non-computers than computers on the Net," Bell said.

HP announced that its "e-speak" software now will work with Chai devices, enabling those devices to automatically seek services over the Internet and negotiate deals, Bell said. For example, a Chai-enabled printer could automatically order new ink cartridges for itself by sending out a request over the Internet, finding out who has the best deal, locating the company that can ship it fastest and cheapest, submitting a request for authorization to the printer owner's cell phone, and closing the deal.

HP also detailed a new version of Chai, pared down from 300 kilobytes to 250 to better enable it to fit in devices in which size and cost are extremely important. Also joining Chai is a small Web browser HP wrote called ChaiFarer.

Bell acknowledged that Chai has catching up to do. "I think [Sun is] way ahead in mindshare," Bell said.

Chai, though lacking the recognizable brand name of Java, is gaining momentum, Bell said. "In the last week, we have licensed three of the biggest names in consumer electronics: one in Korea, one in Taiwan, and one in Europe," Bell said.

"Technologically, I believe we're way ahead." And Chai costs less to license, he said. "Everybody tells us [our licensing terms] are more attractive," he said.

Real-time struggle
One area where the companies compete most vigorously is for real-time devices that must be able to respond immediately to commands--factory floor robots equipped with a stop button, for example. Yesterday, Sun announced a preliminary version of a standard for using Java in those real-time products, and HP and its partners, a group called the J Consortium, announced public review of its similar standard.

Curiously, HP said it intends to use the very same standardization process for its real-time Java work that Sun abandoned in April as a way to make Java a standard. HP will submit the real-time Java information to the Joint Technical Committee of the International Standards Organization, HP said.

Despite the possibilities for d?tente, Sun strongly opposes HP's parallel efforts.

"HP has their own agenda, which is a Microsoft agenda," said Zander, referring to the lawsuit Sun brought against Microsoft that accused Microsoft of trying to undermine Java by making it Windows-specific.

Sueltz also spoke against having different versions of Java. "We do not want to fracture the industry. My goal is to keep that [Java] standard open and to keep moving it forward as one standard," she said yesterday.

Bell, though, insists HP has no interest in fragmenting Java and that Chai has no "hooks" that limit it to working only with certain operating systems. "We've always been committed to the portability of Java programs," he said.

However, it's tough to keep the two versions in tune, because HP refuses to abide by Sun's "expert group" process to develop new Java specifications. Instead, HP hopes that overlapping membership between the J Consortium and the Sun group will help keep the standards compatible. "We [the J Consortium] still have members who attend both meetings, but you have to sign a nondisclosure agreement to participate in their process, so publicly, we don't know," said Wendy Fong, standards manager for HP's embedded software operation.

Siemens, which wants to use Java technology in its manufacturing plant equipment, is one of those companies that is a member of both efforts. Siemens joined in Sun's announcement of its real-time Java standard while simultaneously demonstrating real-time equipment using Chai. "Our goal is to have one set of Java technology-based standards that can be used widely within the industrial automation market," Siemens said in a statement.