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Sun criticized for delays on Apache project

The company feels the heat after failing to deliver Extensible Markup Language (XML) development tools to a nonprofit group as promised.

Sun Microsystems is feeling the heat after failing to deliver Web technology to a nonprofit group as promised.

The company earlier this year pledged to donate Extensible Markup Language (XML) development tools to the nonprofit Apache Software Foundation, as part of a plan, along with other software makers, to promote adoption of the technology by making free tools available to developers. Sun even trumpeted the gesture in print advertisements and marketing brochures.

Now, four months later, angry officials at Apache said the tools have still not been delivered. Sun representatives said the delay is the result of a legal snafu.

Still, Sun has angered some within Apache for trying to take credit for work it hasn't done, said a person at Apache who requested anonymity. Sun ran an ad promoting its donation to Apache at an Apache convention two weeks ago. The source also said a Sun executive touted the donation in a speech at the convention.

"They have an overactive marketing department and an under-active legal department," the source said.

Sun officials are all apologies. "We ruffled some feathers there," said James Duncan Davidson, a Sun staff engineer in charge of the project. "We had some verbiage that went into a brochure about how we were donating code. That was a snafu, and we've been apologizing."

Apache is a loosely knit organization best known for developing a widely used Web server, the software that delivers Web pages to browsers. Like Linux, it's an "open source" effort, meaning anyone can modify and redistribute the software.

Apache in November announced plans to develop new XML (Extensible Markup Language) tools with technology donated by about half a dozen software companies, including Sun, IBM and DataChannel. Its goal is to further drive the adoption of XML, a Web standard for exchanging information, by building open-source software tools.

The plan is for IBM, Sun and a start-up called Exoffice to donate technology called XML parsers to Apache, so the organization could take the best features of each and meld them into one product. A parser dissects and reads XML text, much like a Web browser reads HTML to generate Web pages on a computer.

XML allows businesses to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with their customers. It also delivers sound, video and other data across the Web and allows for better Internet searching.

Davidson said Sun's attorneys are still hammering out a licensing agreement to give the technology to Apache. The delay forced the other software makers in the project to tackle it on their own, and they have already built a first version of an XML tool without Sun's help, according to a source close to Apache.

Sun's contribution is necessary to upgrade an XML tool that Apache is working on, and the delay is hampering the group's effort to give software developers the improved product Apache promoted when it launched the effort, the source at Apache said.

Once Sun contributes its technology, Apache will quickly integrate Sun's parser into Apache's parser, then start work on a second version of the product, Davidson said. Sun and IBM expect to incorporate the new parser into their company's software products.

Sun's technology could be incorporated into Apache's XML parser a month after that, said Davidson. Sun also is working on details that will allow Apache to use the Java API for XML Parsing, which links XML to the Java language.

"We want this to happen," Davidson said. "Developers I've talked to are looking forward to getting our technology to integrate into the parser. We're on the last leg of getting the legal stuff straightened out."

In the meantime, Sun--which previously contributed Java programming language technology to Apache--hopes to work out a licensing agreement soon and give away its XML technology to Apache within a month.

All the other companies who promised to donate XML technology to Apache's effort have contributed. Lotus and two independent software developers are giving away their Extensible StyleSheet Language (XSL) technology, which lets users define how a document is presented. DataChannel and BowStreet have also donated technology.