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U.S. rejects Java standard

The U.S. delegation to the ISO casts a "no" vote on Sun's bid to make Java an international standard and to be the official steward of the technology.

3 min read
The U.S. delegation to an international standards body today cast a "no" vote on Sun Microsystems' bid to make Java an international standard and to be the official steward of the technology.

The U.S. vote is so far the only "no" vote among 27 countries that make up the Joint Technical Committee (JTC-1) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Six countries--Australia, France, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom--have already given Sun a thumbs-up, with the other 20 still to decide by November 14.

This is the second and final round of voting in the ISO process. Member countries are voting specifically on Sun's bid to become an official submitter of "publicly available specifications." If it wins approval, the company will then move to submit Java as a standard in a separate process.

Still to vote in the next two weeks are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, and Switzerland.

Of 40 voting members in the U.S. delegation, there were 15 "yes" votes and 10 "no" votes. But the delegation requires a two-thirds majority, so Sun ended up losing the U.S. tally by two votes, according to Kathleen McMillan, the director of standards operations for ITI, the industry group that manages the U.S. delegation. The rest of the members either abstained or did not appear at the meeting.

At an international level, the JTC-1 doesn't approve standards by a set number of "yes" votes. Instead, it considers all countries' votes, then determines if there are enough approvals to form a consensus. Theoretically, Sun could gain three-quarters of the vote but still lose if the naysayers are influential enough, according to McMillan.

Because the U.S. vote carries more weight than many other countries in the ISO's final tally, Sun must press hard for other industrialized countries to vote in its favor.

"We're disappointed but keeping it in perspective," said George Paolini, director of corporate marketing for Sun's JavaSoft division. "The U.S. is important, but of the countries that have voted 'yes' so far, they're not insignificant."

"We don't know what the electoral college equivalent is here, so we don't know exactly how much weight the U.S. vote carries," said Paolini.

Sun has lobbied all year to create an official Java standard and to become the official submitter of Java specifications as the technology evolves. Official submitter status is normally reserved for industry consortia, not single companies. Sun contends it has proven it can impartially gather feedback from the Java community and evolve the technology without conflict of interest, but at least one company in the U.S. delegation had reservations about Sun's role.

"Hewlett-Packard would like to reiterate that we are unconvinced that a single, for-profit company can serve as a reasonable [specification] submitter," wrote HP representative Karen Higginbottom in comments submitted last week. "All companies will rightly work toward their best interest."

Critics, namely Microsoft, argue that Sun cannot both own the Java trademark and be its impartial steward. A Microsoft official praised the U.S. delegation's vote today.

"Sun either needs to go all the way and make Java a real open standard or admit it is proprietary," Microsoft group product manager Charles Fitzgerald wrote in an email today. "They don't get to have their cake and eat it too."

Sun in September amended its proposal in deference to some criticism, but the company insists on its right to retain the Java trademark for products that conform to Sun's implementation of the Java technology.

The company also insists that a defeat at the hands of ISO will not change its strategy.

"The process we've developed to evolve the Java technology will not change" if the bid is ultimately approved or rejected, Paolini said.

Sun contends that Microsoft is trying to fragment Java and kill its "write once, run anywhere" potential by making a Windows-specific version. Sun is suing Microsoft to keep it from branding its own Windows-specific Java with Sun's Java logo and trademark. Microsoft yesterday countersued, alleging that Sun has broken contractual agreements by, among other things, not delivering the necessary test suites that help Microsoft's Java products conform with Sun's specifications.