Can Sun Navigate Tricky Java Politics?

SAN MATEO (07/03/2000) - Consider this scenario: A powerful platform provider seeks to block out competitors by controlling key software APIs. With nasty public spats, it draws the ire of other IT vendors and users, who lobby for more standards and less proprietary technology. This scenario may sound eerily familiar to critics of Microsoft Corp., but this time I'm talking about Sun Microsystems Inc. and the development of Java.

A few years ago, most people would have listed Java as a key Internet "standard," much like people consider XML today. Back then, people expected Sun to come through as planned and put Java in the standards bodies' realm to create competition on the basis of implementation of the standard.

But in the past several months, Sun has been finding its stewardship of Java an increasingly untenable position. Software providers are balking at the licensing terms and bristling at both the glory Sun basks in as the technology's inventor and implications that Java runs best on Sun platforms.

The political wrangling has gone way beyond contentious backroom dealings as competitors and standardization advocates, including the open-source community, agitate for better terms.

The pull of Java's popularity with enterprises seeking an alternative to Microsoft has let Sun both further the specification and meet its own self-interests. At the JavaOne conference in June, it got heavyweights to sign on to the latest Java 2 Enterprise Edition set of APIs. And as Tom Sullivan and Ed Scannell detail, Sun and IBM last week came to terms on the latest impasse over licensing.

But this truce with IBM Corp. does not plaster over the long-term issue of whether Sun can continue to get vendors to back enhancements to Java.

Users want standardization so they can buy and create plug-in business components. The open-source community cannot keep up with the breadth and speed of technology changes, which leaves the destiny of Java tied up in Sun's political skills.

Should Sun hand over part of Java to standards bodies?

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