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Sun, Java group mending fences

Reconciliation with the Real-Time Java Working Group could lead to the software's incorporation into industrial equipment.

Sun Microsystems and a disgruntled industry group may be mending their fences, a step that could lead to the software's incorporation into industrial equipment.

Sun and the Real-Time Java Working Group will twice meet in San Diego during January 12 to 15, said David Wood, product manager for safety-critical solutions group at Aonix, a company that is considering products based around "real time" Java.

The two groups parted ways in October while trying to decide how to use Java in equipment that must be able to respond instantly. The capability would make Java useful, for example, for controlling machinery that needs an emergency stop button.

Java founder James Gosling is currently scheduled to attend both meetings, Wood said.

In response to industry criticism from Hewlett-Packard and others, Sun announced two weeks ago it would loosen its grip on the process by which standards are set for using Java in new environments. In the new regime, Sun will make it easier for third parties to submit comment to a standards-setting body and play a greater role in the overall effort.

Setting the standards for "real time" Java will serve as a "beta test" of the new openness, said Jim Mitchell, Sun's vice president of architecture and technology for Java.

"The hope is that [Sun's new process] will be the mechanism for bringing the camps together. It's counterproductive to be going in different directions," Wood said.

About two months ago, the Real-Time Java Working Group broke with the Requirements Group, which has been working on guidelines for a real-time Java standard. Those guidelines, formally known as a specification, must be established before the beginning of work on the actual standard, called "Real-Time Extensions to the Java API."

Real-time extensions to Java will allow the operating system to be used in machinery that must respond instantly to avoid accidents. Aonix has already written real-time operating systems for controlling systems in the Space Station, the Boeing 777 jet, and high-speed trains, Wood said.

Although Wood is optimistic the rift can be healed, he expressed caution. "One of the outcomes of the rift is the decision by Sun to open up Java somewhat," Wood said. "Whether this helps to close the rift or not remains to be seen."

Under the old process, participants were dissatisfied with Sun's tight control and the fact that Sun would have final say on Java standards. Some companies further objected that Sun didn't listen to them unless they paid Sun to license the Java technology.

"We do not feel that Sun?s process is sufficiently open and vendor-neutral, but in fact creates an environment in which Sun Microsystems can potentially enforce positions which provide an advantage to their products," the Real-Time Java Working Group said in a statement.

Going forward, Sun will not have as much control over writing the standards, Sun's Mitchell said. Instead, Sun's role will be limited to deciding whether a standard needs to be written, announcing that the standard-writing process is under way, requesting that experts interested in participating send their resumes, and selecting the expert to lead the process.

After that, Sun won't step in unless it needs to break a deadlock, Mitchell said.

On December 16, Sun issued a request for experts to write the real-time Java standard, Mitchell said.

Most of the new standards for extending Java are taking place in the area of consumer devices--electronic equipment such as television set-top boxes or telephones or car navigation systems, Mitchell said. "That's where we see a lot of new APIs," he said. "On those things, we won't be the ones driving it."