Sun's plan B for Java standardization: change nothing

Company "cannot and will not surrender Java trademark"

By Robert McMillan

September  1997
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San Francisco (September 22, 1997) -- Today, for the first time, Sun Microsystems revealed what it intends to do if its bid to secure ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification for the Java platform does not succeed. According to JavaSoft president Alan Baratz, if the ISO bid is rejected, "we will just simply not take the next step and turn it [Java] into a de jure standard." He adds, "we will not change the way we operate."

By close of business today, the next-to-last step in Sun's quest to make its Java language an ISO standard will be completed, with Sun posting its final response to ISO member criticisms of its proposal to standardize the language.

Under Sun's proposal, the Java platform -- which includes the Java Virtual Machine, the Java language specifications, and the APIs for Java class libraries -- would become an ISO-approved standard, shepherded through the ISO's Joint Technical Committee (JTC 1). In addition Sun would be named a Publicly Available Submitter (PAS), the entity in charge of developing the Java specification for the JTC 1.

In a press conference this morning, Sun made two things abundantly clear: that it intends to retain control over the development of the Java platform and that it will not hand the Java trademark over to the ISO.

JavaSoft vice president Jim Mitchell says, "Sun will carry out maintenance of the International Standard on behalf of the Java community using our established open process, and we will also participate in JTC 1 internal maintenance processes."

Mitchell says that things like bug fixes would fall under the JTC 1's "internal maintenance process" whereas changes to the Java platform (for example, the addition of new APIs) would not. According to a Sun spokesperson, this means "the process for how the Java platform evolves has not changed."

On the trademark issue, Mitchell was unequivocal. "Sun cannot and will not surrender its trademarks for the Java platform to ISO or anyone else," he says.

Presently, Sun goes through a period of industry consultation before settling on new Java APIs. Mitchell says that as things stand now, it is the industry and not Sun alone that creates the Java specification. If Sun alone tried to veto a proposal or work in collusion with one other vendor, Mitchell says, it would "kill Java."

So JavaSoft's position seems to be that the current method of standardizing Java is open enough. But the fact remains that it is Sun and not any other vendor or organization that has final say on what is and what is not Java.

"They want Java to be sanctioned as an international standard and at the same time keep control over it," says David Folger, program director at the Meta Group.

Some ISVs are happy to see Sun maintain control over the specification. Shaun Maine, president of software developer Sanga International Inc., notes that the ISO is not necessarily known for its speed in developing standards -- a key issue with Java. He says that for his company, having the standard controlled by a hardware vendor, rather than an application vendor like SAP or Microsoft is better. "I'd actually prefer Sun to maintain the specification," he says. "Because they don't have an application division, they have been very strong in not competing with ISVs," he adds.


Horse race still on
So will it affect ISVs if Java does not become an ISO standard? Maine says, "I really can't see a lot of them [ISVs] caring. If Sun tried to do an Oracle and provide applications and content, I think people would get fearful."

From today's teleconference, it remains unclear whether or not Sun has come close to satisfactorily responding to JTC 1 criticisms of its plan. In informal meetings held at last week's JTC 1 plenary in Ottawa, Sun claims to have found strong support amongst members. Only Microsoft and Intel are opposed to its efforts, Mitchell says.

Still, JTC 1 members are reluctant to comment on this "informal meeting." Doug Langlotz, senior program officer with the Standards Council of Canada and the person responsible for Canadian activity of the JTC 1, at first denied that the meeting even took place and then declined to comment on whether or not consensus was achieved, saying he did not attend.

The JTC 1's approximately 30 member bodies will have 45 days to register a final vote on Sun's application, once it is posted. In the first international ballot, last July three member countries approved the proposal, five approved with comments, 15 disapproved with comments and one abstained.

Java will become an ISO standard once the JTC 1 consensus is that all comments have been satisfactorily addressed, according to the American National Standards Institute's director for international secreteriats, Lisa Rajchel.

Torsten Busse, a correspondent with the IDG News Service, contributed to this story


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