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Sun loses round in Java fight

A U.S. committee comes out against Sun Microsystems' plan for making its programming language an open, standard technology.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) has lost the first round in its fight to turn the Java programming language into an official standard.

A committee of high-tech companies and organizations from the United States has voted against Sun's proposal. The vote isn't a surprise; the plan has been widely opposed by members of the U.S. technical committee, a group that includes Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

According to Sun, the committee's concerns today focused on the plan's provisions for the trademarking of the Java name, future maintenance of a Java standard, and which technologies Sun will submit as a standard.

Although U.S. opposition is embarrassing for Sun, it may not derail the plan. The proposal still must be voted on by an international organization with more than two dozen member countries.

A spokeswoman for Sun's JavaSoft division said today that the company will amend its plan to reflect comments made by the U.S. committee. "We're going to work with [the international committee] to understand how to address everyone's questions at the international level."

It's hard to predict whether today's rejection by the United States will scotch Sun's plan. But many of the members of the U.S. committee also have overseas branches and could influence the votes of other countries.

At least two countries, Switzerland and France, have already decided to vote against Sun's plan, sources said. The international vote will conclude in July.

Over the past two months, more than a half-dozen high-tech companies and organizations have come out against Sun's efforts to make Java an official standard, criticizing Sun for not relinquishing enough control of the technology.

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

Lucent Technologies, Texas Instruments, Compaq Computer, the National Committee for Information Technology Standards, and others all had previously suggested they would vote against Sun's standardization plan in the U.S. vote.

Microsoft and Intel have also criticized the plan but do not have voting rights.

Most of the controversy surrounds Sun's wish to become, in ISO/IEC jargon, a "publicly available submitter," or 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 a truly open technology. 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 on Sun's Java proposal. "By the terms of its corporate charter, its principal focus is maximizing shareholder value by competing with other companies for market share."