Sun offers olive branch to Java partners

The Java creator and representatives from major computing companies meet to discuss a Sun proposal that gives others more say in controlling the future of Java.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Once again, Sun Microsystems is trying to strike the right balance between controlling its Java software and keeping it popular.

And, once again, Sun's proposal isn't exactly being greeted with applause.

Sun and representatives from major computing companies met today to discuss a Sun proposal that gives others more say in controlling the future of Java, a Sun spokeswoman said. Under the new proposed process, called JCP 2.0, Sun will relinquish some control over Java development, including the determination over when developments can be released to the public, the spokeswoman said. However, the proposal unveiled by Sun is being met with caution.

Sun has gradually been relinquishing control of Java, software that theoretically lets a program run on a multitude of different computers. But some of Sun's biggest Java allies, notably IBM, have been clamoring for more control over Java.

The debate highlights the tension between some of the most powerful computing companies as they try to steer Java in the direction each company wants. Companies invited to review the new proposal were Apple, BEA Systems, Compaq, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Novell, Oracle, Symantec and Wind River, the Sun spokeswoman said.

The moderating tone from Sun reflects the influence of Pat Sueltz, leader of Sun's software efforts and the former leader of IBM's use of Java. Sueltz has seen what Java looks like from outside Sun and assembled a panel to address community control of Java.

The conflict over controlling Java was embodied in the years-long process by which Sun attempted to have Java turned into a standard controlled by many companies. That effort began at the International Organization for Standardization but ended at a different group called ECMA. Lacking support from Sun, ECMA disbanded its Java group today, and the ECMA secretary general sent a scathing letter about Sun's participation.

"Their action over the past two years has resulted in an enormous waste of experts' time and companies' money," wrote secretary general Jan van den Beld last week in a letter obtained by CNET News.com.

Java first gained popularity as a way to bring fancy features to Web browsers, then won a serious foothold in businesses using it in back-end e-commerce software. Now Sun is trying to spread it to gadgets such as cell phones. The problem has been that the spread of Java has conflicted with Sun's desire to maintain a guiding hand in industry segments where it didn't always have experience.

George Paolini, vice president of Java community development at Sun, said in a letter to ECMA that Sun decided to keep control of Java within its Java Community Process. "The Java Community Process has expanded its level of activity to a point where we now believe the interests of the entire Java community will be best met by continuing to evolve the Java specifications with the open JCP process," Paolini wrote.

That process has been criticized as being too Sun-centric, to the point where some have called it the "Sun gated community process."

Under JCP 2.0, Sun would let others besides Sun establish new groups for setting Java standards in new areas. And the proposal gives other companies greater control in deciding when those efforts are ready to be transferred from the initial development team to the public. It's not clear whether Sun might be willing to yield on its current role of selecting the leader of each group.

"Java was our little baby. (It was) very hard to let go of its hand when it was taking its first steps," the spokeswoman said. "It's almost at the adolescent stage. Maybe we should start letting it walk a bit more on its own."

There's no schedule for the changes, the spokeswoman said. "This is one of many meetings. The draft we put down on the table is written in pencil."

One industry source familiar with the proposal still had reservations. "Sun does maintain a veto power," the source said. Sun has loosened the reins somewhat.