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Sun has low hurdle for ISO approval

The company needs a majority of the 27 voting countries behind it to become the international steward of Java.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) has an easier hurdle than expected in its bid to become the international steward of Java, according to officials at the international standards body reviewing the company's application.

With 27 voting countries in the International Organization for Standardization's Joint Technical Committee (JTC-1), Sun will only need to gain the approval of a simple majority--14 votes--to become the official submitter of Java specifications, said Lisa Rajchel of the JTC-1 secretariat.

Sun estimates it is not far from victory, but its tally of ten yes votes as of today is not official. All votes will be counted at the end of the day Friday and the results will be announced Monday.

If approved by the committee, Sun would soon submit Java as an international standard. If successful, the company would then be responsible for overseeing and gathering industry input on how Java should evolve and then submitting those changes to the ISO for approval.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy said in a speech yesterday that the process now in place was a good compromise between a closed, proprietary method of evolving a standard and the open but excruciatingly slow method of most standards bodies.

The goal of a simple majority comes as somewhat of a surprise to people familiar with the JTC-1.

"That's a pretty low bar to hit," said Kathleen McMillan, director of standards operations for ITI, an industry group that manages the U.S. delegation to JTC-1.

The JTC-1's voting guidelines state that in this situation, a majority is all that's needed, but the language also seems to give the group some leeway for interpretation: "Due account shall be taken of minority views...[and] JTC-1 and its SCs shall pay special attention to negative votes by [participating] members and shall attempt as far as possible to resolve the underlying differences and achieve the maximum level of approval."

McMillan, Sun executives, and other industry observers have interpreted this language to mean that the JTC-1 can take into account the influence of the negative votes and even overrule a majority approval. But not this time.

"I don't have any flexibility," Rajchel said, stressing that each voting country has equal weight.

Critics, the most vocal being Microsoft, have questioned Sun's intentions to make Java an international standard yet retain rights to its trademark. Standards officials acknowledge that consortia, not single companies, usually take stewardship of technology standards, but there is nothing in the rules that forbids such a situation.

The deadline for voting is the end of the day Friday, with results to be announced on Monday, said Rajchel, who is responsible for counting the votes as they come in. She would not disclose where the tally stands so far.

Sun has not been as reticent, however. Two days ago, a marketing executive claimed that 13 "yes" votes had come in, but today the company revised that to 10 votes in its favor: Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Hungary; one against, the United States; and two abstentions, Switzerland and Italy. The JTC-1's Rajchel would not confirm or deny any of the votes but said when asked about the 13-to-1 tally: "I don't have that many votes in yet." She also stressed that countries have the right to change their vote until the final deadline.

"Nothing is official until it comes into this office," Rajchel added.

In addition to the countries listed above, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Russia are voting JTC-1 members.