International voting on Java standardization finished

JavaSoft to be given 60 days to respond to comments

By Robert McMillan

July  1997
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San Francisco (July 15, 1997) -- Voting on whether or not the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will let Sun's Java technology be standardized through its Joint Technical Committee (JTC 1) has ended, but a yes or no decision on Java's fate with the ISO appears months away.

For one thing, according to the American National Standards Institute's director for international secretariats, Lisa Rajchel, not all of the 27 voting members have submitted their votes. Five members have yet to vote, and they have been given a one-week extension to do so.

But Rajchel said that no matter what happens, Sun will be given 60 days to "address all comments" (international standard parlance meaning "change its proposal"). According to her, the vote to standardize "would be black and white [only] if there weren't any comments" -- and the United States, for one, has already submitted comments. (See Resources below.)

Apparently, the criticisms of the JTC 1's other voting members do not differ greatly from those of the U.S. committee, which center around Sun's control of the Java trademark, how much of the Java technology will actually be submitted, control over revisions of the Java specification, and the openness of the process proposed by Sun.

In a teleconference today Jim Mitchell, JavaSoft's VP of technology, downplayed the significance of objections over Sun's control of the trademark, saying that a brand name and an internationally recognized standard should be able to coexist. He compared the possible Java/ISO standard distinction to that between Ethernet (which is a brand name) and the IEEE 802.3 standard. He said the "evolution and maintenance" of the standard would be a "tough one" and that figuring out "how maintenance happens that keeps up with Internet speed...but merges well with the standards process we already have, is going to take work."

The Ethernet analogy is an interesting one because the trademark for Ethernet was handed over to the public domain. According to Ethernet's inventor, Bob Metcalfe, "the Ethernet trademark was passed into the public domain so that DEC, Intel, HP, et al could use it without always referring back to Xerox [where Ethernet originated]." Mitchell declined to say whether the ISO standard would actually be called Java or not.


Java is not Ada
Though the U.S.'s JTC 1 committee has suggested that the Java trademark be used much in the same fashion as the U.S. Department of Defense's Ada programming language, Mitchell called the comparison inappropriate. "Ada," he said, "was meant to be a programming language, not a platform" like Java. "I think it's important to separate brands for products [e.g. Java] from names for specifications [e.g. ISO 9000]." The Department of Defense has made the Ada trademark freely available, provided that those who use it conform to the standard and acknowledge that the U.S. government owns it (see Resources below).

The late-comers' comments will be compiled over the next week. Sun will then have 60 days to address these and whatever other issues have been raised internationally. After that, voting members will have 45 days to decide whether or not to accept Java. How exactly that will occur is unclear. Rajchel said, "our requirement is consensus, not unanimity." And what, exactly is consensus? Well, Rajchel said, "consensus isn't a determined percentage of the vote, nor is it unanimity."

According to Microsoft program manager Charles Fitzgerald, the vote's outcome is "not in doubt. Sun's proposal will be rejected." He adds, "It will be interesting to see how Sun comes back after this. They have really painted themselves into a corner on this one -- either their openness rhetoric or their proposal is going to have to give."

How Microsoft knows the vote's outcome when it could still be as far as 112 days away is unclear.

According to a JavaSoft spokesperson, today's press conference was called to clear up confusion in the press about the ISO process. As to whether or not Microsoft is talking through its hat saying the proposal will fail, the spokesperson said, "We don't feel it is appropriate to comment at this point."


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