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Java standard gets early support

Five European countries give Sun a thumbs-up in its effort to make Java an international standard, but the real hurdle is the upcoming U.S. vote.

    Sun Microsystems (SUNW) has gained a final vote of confidence in its bid to make Java an international standard and make itself the official gatekeeper for any changes made to the standard.

    Standards bodies in France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have given Sun a thumbs-up, but 22 other member countries have yet to vote. One of the most important votes rests in the hands of the U.S. delegation, which meets tomorrow and Wednesday in Redmond, Washington, to decide. The final deadline for all member countries' votes is November 14.

    Because the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) Joint Technical Committee determines outcomes by an undefined consensus with the final decision resting with the group's secretariat, the U.S. vote carries tremendous weight.

    "We think it's possible that the U.S. could vote no and the rest of world could vote yes, but we don't want that to happen," said Kathleen McMillan, the director of standards operations for ITI, the industry group that manages the U.S. delegation to the JTC. "Theoretically, if only Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. voted no, [Sun's proposal] might or might not go forward."

    When asked if the company was lobbying the U.S. delegation more heavily than those of other member countries, Sun spokeswoman Lisa Poulson said, "We're interested in all of the votes in all of the countries."

    Sun's request to the ISO is an unusual one. Consortia, not individual companies, are normally the stewards of a technology standard. But Sun contends it has proven it can impartially gather feedback from the Java community and evolve the technology. Critics, namely Microsoft, argue that Sun cannot both own the Java trademark and be its impartial steward. Sun has made some concessions to other comments, but insists on its right to retain the Java trademark for products that conform to Sun's implementation of the Java technology.

    That insistence is also at the heart of the company's lawsuit against Microsoft--and Redmond's subsequent countersuit. Sun wants to ensure that the Java logo and trademark apply only to products written in the Java language that have the ability to perform equally well across multiple computing platforms.

    In the first round of voting in June, three countries approved Sun's application as submitted, five voted to approve it with comments, and 15 rejected it with comments.

    Sun addressed some of the criticism with an amended proposal in September. Negotiations could sway U.S. delegates up until the vote, which will take place either tomorrow or Wednesday.

    "We certainly expect this to be an active discussion," Sun's Poulson said.

    So far, several U.S. companies have posted comments on the JTC-1 Web site. Most have been negative. Several key U.S. companies are still undecided.

    "There are six or eight fence-sitters, including AT&T, Digital, and Kodak," said the ITI's McMillan. "They will determine if the U.S. votes yes or no."

    Sun officials have vowed to press on with Java as a de facto standard even if the ISO rejects the company's proposal.