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Sun takes steps to standardize Java

Sun Microsystems will host a standards meeting in an effort to broaden the adoption of its Java technology.

3 min read
As part of an effort to broaden the adoption of its Java technology, Sun Microsystems (SUNW) will host a meeting of the International Standards Organization next week to discuss turning Java into an official standard.

Although ISO and Sun officials described next week's event as only a preliminary step toward standardizing Java, the meeting of ISO subcommittee, the Java Study Group, is one of the first concrete efforts by the company to give control of its coveted Java technology to an independent organization.

The meeting will take place at the Cupertino, California, headquarters of Sun's JavaSoft division and will include representatives of Microsoft, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.

For months, Sun has been talking to various standards bodies about ceding control of all or pieces of its Java technology. Already the various incarnations of Java--the Java Virtual Machine, APIs, and the language itself--have become de facto standards within the high-tech industry. An official Java standard still could be critical to ensuring that the technology is as widely adopted as other standards languages such as C.

Next week's event will be the first meeting of the Java Study Group; the committee was originally formed in September. A spokeswoman for JavaSoft yesterday confirmed that ISO, one of the best know international standards bodies, will play a part in standardizing Java, but that that process could take as long two years to complete.

"ISO plays an extremely significant role in setting international standards," said Lisa Poulson, the JavaSoft spokeswoman. "JavaSoft looks forward to discussing with ISO the process of how and when Java technologies will be brought into the standards process."

Similarly, ISO officials said they are eager to define a Java standard, but that the process will not occur overnight.

"The point of the Java Study Group has been to start bringing people together from the international community and to see what approaches we could use to work with Sun, Microsoft, Netscape, [and others] so that when everything came together it wouldn't be ISO we were waiting for," said Bob Mathis, chairman of the Java Study Group.

The ISO meeting dovetails with another Sun effort, dubbed 100 Percent Pure Java, which aims to ensure Java applets run properly on the broadest array of platforms. Announced last December, the campaign was largely aimed at Microsoft, which has urged developers to extend Java applications with ActiveX, a technology available primarily on Windows.

Sun's standards efforts are also part of a broader initiative by Internet vendors to make their technologies more open. In November, Netscape Communications agreed to hand its JavaScript language over to ECMA, a language standards body. Likewise, last October, Microsoft said that it would give pieces of ActiveX to The Open Group.

Microsoft, a frequent critic of Sun's stewardship of Java, welcomed the idea of moving the technology into a standards body.

"I'm not convinced that the current model is working that well," said Charles Fitzgerald, a product manager at Microsoft. "The hope is that a standards body can help accelerate the growth of Java technology. Today it's very immature. [Java] has some big holes in functionality."

According to ISO's Mathis, defining a single Java standard will be critical to widespread adoption of the technology.

"Java could very well become a standard within the communications community on par with TV broadcasting," Mathis said. "If that happens we'd want a standard that's as strong as [TV]."