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Sun to begin opening Java

Sun Microsystems is preparing to give up control of its coveted Java technology by handing over at least some pieces to an industry standards body within the next few months.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) is preparing to give up control of its coveted Java technology by handing over at least some pieces to an industry standards body within the next few months, sources told CNET.

The Sun move, which is still in the early planning stages, comes at a time when two other major Internet players, Microsoft and Netscape Communications, are attempting to deliver key Net technologies--ActiveX and JavaScript, respectively--into the hands of standards organizations. By ceding control of their technologies to independent organizations, the companies are hoping to counter the perception that the technologies are proprietary. The idea is that "open" technologies sell better because users tend to be more confident about technology that won't necessarily be made obsolete by the next round of introductions.

But actually giving up control is a slow process that in some ways resembles the anguish of parents sending their kids off to college.

In the case of Sun, the company will not deliver Java technology whole hog to a standards body, but rather will parse out little bits and pieces over time. The pieces are expected to included the Java Virtual Machine, the engine that drives applets; Java APIs, and the Java language itself, sources said. Sun wants to make sure each piece of Java is mature enough before the company cedes control, sources said.

Microsoft and Netscape have also moved slowly to give up control over their technologies. Next week, Netscape plans to give JavaScript to Swiss organization ECMA at a meeting attended by other leading Internet vendors, nearly a year after it promised to do so. In early October, Microsoft began the process of turning ActiveX over to a standards body, but got some flak from other companies for keeping elements of the technology to itself.

Executives at Sun's JavaSoft division declined to comment on which organization they are negotiating with, but confirmed that the company is in discussion with several groups. The company could choose any number of different organizations to handle Java, including ECMA, The Open Group, and the International Standards Organization.

"We really believe in this business of being an open systems company," said Jim Mitchell, chief technology officer at JavaSoft.

Over the long term, a single Java standard under independent control is critical if the technology is to achieve its "write once, run anywhere" philosophy, Mitchell said.

"If other companies do an implementation [of Java], they must do a valid implementation," he said. "Putting Java out into standards body means there can be independent compliance tests."