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Sun revising plan for Java recognition

Sun searches for a new way to gain the approval of the International Standards Organization, trying to advance the technology's adoption without ceding control.

Sun Microsystems is revising a plan to win recognition for its Java programming language as an international software standard.

The computing giant is considering a new path to gaining the approval of the International Standards Organization (ISO), executives said. Gaining status as an ISO standard is part of Sun's strategy to drive widespread adoption of the "write once, run anywhere" technology without surrendering control of its evolution.

Sun had been working with the ISO's Joint Technical Committee 1, but the company said it is unhappy with the degree of control the committee would have over the Java specification, and is considering other routes to getting Java adopted by ISO. One alternate is to go through the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA).

"ECMA is a well-defined standards body that has a good working relationship with ISO," said Ken Urquhart, manager of Java standardization at Sun, in an interview today.

"We are committed to making our Java standards internationally recognized standards. We are still committed to taking our specifications through to ISO," Urquhart said."

The possibility of bypassing of the ISO committee is the latest development in Sun's struggle to balance Java's promotion with the ability to maintain control over the technology. It would set Sun back several steps in the standardization process, though not all the way back to square one.

Speaking with reporters yesterday, Alan Baratz, president of Sun's software division, blamed Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and the so-called Wintel world in general for creating an environment he described as unfavorable to gaining ISO recognition.

Sun won ISO's approval to standardize Java in November 1997, but Sun hasn't submitted anything to date. Urquhart said the company has been waiting because Sun planned to submit version 1.2 of Java (since renamed Java 2) as the standard, and that product arrived later than planned.

"We got the message loud and clear: ISO likes standards that are stable," Urquhart said, and Java 2 was to be that standard.

JTC1, the ostensible chokepoint, is a joint committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Although Baratz indicated some dissatisfaction with ISO, he mostly limited his criticism to the JTC1's "evolving" Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) process.

In a recording of yesterday's media interview that Java developer Rick Ross of Java Lobby shared with CNET News.com, Baratz blamed changes in the PAS process on efforts by Microsoft, which allegedly has spent "several million dollars around the world lobbying, trying to block this initiative," Baratz said.

The changes mean that for Sun to use the PAS process for submitting Java, Sun would have to turn "maintenance" of the Java standard over to ISO, something Sun considers unacceptable. "Maintenance is defined as ongoing evolution, not just bug-fixing.... We essentially [would] have to turn the ongoing definition of the platform over to ISO, which is something that we've always said we would not do," Baratz said.

Microsoft lashed out at Baratz's accusation that its meddling soured Sun's plan.

"Baratz blamed the change in direction on Microsoft, accusing us of spending millions of dollars and lobbying to change the rules to prevent Sun from submitting Java. This is simply untrue," said John Montgomery of Microsoft's Standards Activities Group in a statement.

"Mr. Baratz's comments are a smokescreen to distract from the fact that Sun has been unsuccessful in convincing JTC1 to rubberstamp their proprietary process," Montgomery added.

"Microsoft's investments of time and money to influence JTC1 in the last year approach zero, principally so as not to allow Sun to distract JTC1 members by focusing on Microsoft," Montgomery said. He added that Sun and its Java ally, IBM, have "probably spent millions" on their own Java lobbying.

Ross, who backs Sun's effort to get Java standardized, said both companies probably spent millions and lobbied hard, regardless of whether "they are actually directly accounting for the dollars involved." Both companies sent people all over the globe, for example, to try to line up different countries' ISO votes, he said.

Ross, who spoke with Baratz today, said the Sun executive "gave me his word" that Sun will "outline to developers how the new approach that Sun is trying to take will be equal to or better than the terms of the old deal."

Ross urged Java developers "to gather all the facts before making a judgment."