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Sun back to the Java table

Rebuffed in its first step to make Java an international standard, Sun Microsystems modifies its original proposal in the hope that the second time's a charm.

Rebuffed in its first step to make Java an international standard, Sun Microsystems (SUNW) modified its original proposal today in hope that the second time's a charm.

Sun's JavaSoft division will post today its detailed response to comments made back in July by the member countries of the Joint Technical Committee (JTC-1), the branch of the International Standards Organization that deals with technology issues. In that first round of voting, 3 countries approved Sun's application as submitted, 5 voted to approve it with comments, and 15 rejected it with comments.

The proposal aims to establish Java as an international standard and make Sun the official submitter of any changes made to the Java Virtual Machine, the Java language, or the core Java APIs (application programming interfaces). The JTC-1 members would still have to approve such changes.

This "official submitter" status--called PAS, short for publicly available specification submitter--is normally conferred upon industry consortia, not individual companies. But Sun feels it is best equipped to handle the role for Java.

"We are setting a precedent as a single company [instead of a consortium]," said Dr. Jim Mitchell, Sun vice president of technology and architecture. "Practically anybody on the Web can comment on our draft specifications, which is different than what consortia have usually done, but all [the ISO members] care about is that the specification is publicly available."

One criticism aimed at the company concerned its reluctance to hand over control of the Java trademark. This was underscored recently in an open letter from Microsoft, Intel, Digital Equipment, and Compaq. Sun executives maintain that the trademark criticism is driven by Microsoft, which sees the spread of Java as direct competition to the Windows platform.

"Microsoft is only interested in fragmenting Java and destroying the brand," said JavaSoft president Alan Baratz. "All it cares about in the context of this submission is destroying the unification and the value proposition in the brand."

Sun chief executive Scott McNealy went even farther in a keynote address today at an Oracle conference in Los Angeles.

"They want us to give the Java brand away, donate to the public good," he said. "We suggest that if Microsoft thinks we ought to do that, Microsoft should, as a show of good faith, put Windows and other brands in the public domain. Then we'll think about doing that for Java."

"Microsoft should look in the mirror before they try to explain to people how open processes ought to run," McNealy added, noting that the software giant has not given Windows to any standards body. But he also signaled an interest in maintaining peace of some sort, inviting Microsoft to share its implementation of Java to move the Java platform forward.

Sun maintains that the name "Java" should be reserved in certain cases to Sun's products, such as "HotJava" or "JavaStudio," or third-party products based on Sun's source code.

"We're a business; we're not going to give away our products," said Mitchell. "If it says 'Java,' it has to be based on Sun's implementation [of the Java platform specification]."

Sun has posted its response to ISO's comments on its Web site. The company also suggested that an ISO working group should be created to oversee the maintenance of the Java specifications.

The company defined "maintenance" as areas related to bug fixes, typos, and other errata in the specification, but not evolution of the core Java technology. Such evolution would remain in Sun's hands. The company feels it already has established a credible process of gathering comments and suggestions from the Java community before updating the Java platform.

ISO member countries will now have 45 days to make a final decision on Sun's proposal to be a PAS submitter.

"We want to be clear that we feel the PAS application will be accepted," said Baratz. "But if it is not, we'll continue to drive Java as a de facto standard."

Failure to do so, he added, would be a breach of contract with Java licensees.

Senior writer Tim Clark contributed to this report.