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Sun renews Java standards effort

Sun makes good on a pledge to seek recognition for Java as international standard, despite a recent change in plans, but some observers aren't sure if it's worth it.

Sun Microsystems is making good on its pledge to seek recognition for Java as international standard, notwithstanding a recent change in plans, but some observers aren't sure if it's worth it.

Sun has submitted a proposal to the European Computer Manufacturers Association to bring a Sun-controlled Java standard to the International Standards Organization, documents obtained by CNET News.com show.

In an April 30 letter to ECMA secretary general Jan Van Den Beld, Sun Java Software president Alan Baratz said Sun proposes to make Java 2 a standard, including the programming language, the virtual machine that powers the "write once, run anywhere" universality of Java, and supporting software libraries.

Last week, Baratz had signaled his disgruntlement with obstacles complicating the company's earlier plan to have Java recognized as an ISO standard, as previously reported. Baratz had mentioned the possibility of going through ECMA in an interview with reporters, which the company apparently now will do.

Sun had been working with an ISO committee called JTC1 to win recognition as a standard, but Sun was displeased with the degree of control it would have had to cede. The entire effort illustrates Sun's ongoing struggle to balance Java's promotion with the ability to maintain control over the technology.

Ironically, according to Sun's proposal to ECMA, Sun still plans to take the Java standard through the same group that caused last week's unhappiness.

Sun was dissatisfied with the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) method of submitting a standard to JTC1, a joint technical committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission. But according to its proposal to ECMA, the first thing it will do after setting the Java standard is to submit that standard to JTC1.

Sun executives could not be immediately reached for comment, but Baratz is scheduled to discuss the standardization issue with analysts and reporters tomorrow.

However, sources familiar with the plan said Sun's strategy is aimed at getting the Java standard accepted under Sun's terms. In past cases where ECMA standards have been submitted to JTC1, the committee has voted either yes or no--without modifying the specification.

The component Sun is trying to preserve is its method of keeping control of Java. Going through ECMA apparently is an attempt to make sure that future modifications to Java come from Sun's Java community process, as opposed to turning over the evolution of Java to JTC1. According to Sun's plan, the proposed ECMA technical committee would "develop other standards based on Java technology specifications produced by the Java Community Process."

In the Community Process, which Sun announced last December, Sun relinquishes some control over the setting of new Java standards. Sun still decides which Java standards should be pursued and selects an industry representative to lead the effort. Sun then steps in only to break logjams, company executives have said.

Anne Thomas, an analyst with Patricia Seybold Group, questioned the value of pursuing the standardization process at all, noting that Java already is a de facto standard. "I think this is to some degree a great adventure in worthless expense. I don't see how an ISO standard will help or harm Sun in any way," she said.

Two years ago, when standardization had just begun, an international Java standard may have been a good idea, Thomas said, because Sun was being criticized for the proprietary nature of Java.

"I don't understand why JTC1 would be willing to accept this process going through ECMA any more than just going through Sun," Thomas added.

According to the Sun plan, a proposed technical committee of ECMA would have responsibility for "passive maintenance of the [Java] standard."

Thomas said it wasn't clear exactly what "passive maintenance" means, but that it appears the ECMA technical committee "would accept updates from Sun," then submit those changes to ISO. "I'm sure that's what Sun would like," Thomas said.