Sun Takes Baby Steps Toward Opening Java

SAN MATEO (03/03/2000) - Sun Microsystems Inc. this week took a step toward allowing greater levels of partner involvement in the Java development process, hoping to quell growing unrest among vendors and developers who fear the company is beginning to mirror Microsoft in the way it controls what is supposed to be an open standard.

The key olive branch being offered by Sun is a draft plan for the next version of the Java Community Process (JCP), JCP 2.0, which would create a "Blue Ribbon Panel" to audit several key control points in the JCP over which Sun currently has sole ownership.

Those control points, said a Sun representative, will include the juncture at which specifications are accepted or rejected as well as three timing-related points: when to release a specification for private review, when to release a specification for public review, and ultimately when a final draft is accepted.

JCP 2.0, however, still allows Sun veto power over any decisions, which negates, in one insider's opinion, any real benefits of the concession.

JCP 2.0 also fails to address one of the more contentious issues surrounding Java, licensing fees.

"This only addresses one part of the problem, which is where technology innovation starts and occurs, but what we've been saying is that the process itself is not a substitution for a standards body," said an IBM representative who asked not to be named. "Everyone's talking about an open standard, like XML, where no one makes money off of it, and this doesn't address that."

What could have addressed that is an agreement from Sun to allow the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA), an open standards body, to assume control of Java, but that initiative now seems doomed.

Sun officials exchanged letters with ECMA at the end of last month that ostensibly ended any chance of the two sides working together on the standard, and in fact the ECMA committee that had been overseeing the Java issue was disbanded this week.

"[Sun's] action over the past two years has resulted in an enormous waste of experts' time and companies' money," said Jan van den Beld, the Geneva-based secretary general of ECMA.

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