Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp. this week called a truce to their high-profile licensing dispute over the latest enterprise Java specification, Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), but continuing calls for standardization and open-source Java initiatives are increasing the pressure on Sun to loosen its grip on the popular development language and platform.
"IBM is now a Java licensee," said Gina Centoni, Sun's director of Java marketing, in Palo Alto, California, although she declined to distinguish between the J2EE license and IBM's existing, overarching Java license.
With the truce between the two largest backers of Java, it appears that the political turmoil around Java may be subsiding. But regardless of the specific licensing terms, IBM still wants Java to be submitted to the standards bodies.
"Clearly it is open standards where our customers are going to prosper -- where these technologies are going to prosper -- so we think Java would prosper if it was managed as part of a more open process," said Scott Hebner, director of e-business marketing at IBM, in New York.
Some analysts said Sun's missteps in standardizing Java are slowing market adoption and making way for other languages, notably Microsoft Corp.'s new C# language, which has drawn comparisons to Java.
"If they were allowed to do with Java whatever they want above and beyond the core of Java, Microsoft wouldn't need to make C#," said Tom Murphy, program director at market research firm Meta Group Inc., in California.
In a report issued last week, Giga Information Systems came down on the side of IBM, saying that Sun appears to be splitting hairs over the term "licensee."
Sun, for its part, points to its recent increase in third-party influence within the Java Community Process (JCP), a conglomeration of companies that oversees and tracks enhancements to Java.
"The value proposition of Java is compatibility," Sun's Centoni said. "By licensing it and being able to certify users, we preserve that value."
Meanwhile, various open-source initiatives are creating development tools and libraries around Java. John Swainson, general manager of IBM's application and integration middleware division, in Somers, New York, believes that ultimately Java will have to be made into an international standard, even if the open community starts doing clean-room versions of the Java language and the classes.
"Java is going to be an open language," echoed Rikki Kurtzner, an application development analyst at International Data Corp., in Massachusetts. "Sun will eventually turn it over to the JCP, or the JCP will usurp control."
A number of entities have been building open-source technologies to implement various Java components and libraries. The Free Software Foundation, for instance, is at work on implementations of Java interfaces, tools, and utilities.
"By making Java available as an open-source implementation, Sun can shift the topic of the Java debate from licensing to technology, increasing the rate of innovation for the entire industry," said Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat Inc., in North Carolina.
Tiemann said the open-source community wants Java solutions that meet their requirements: interoperability with existing programming languages, support for diverse platforms, and a distribution license that is 100 percent compatible with GNU/Linux.
But "Sun is under the impression that if it lets go of Java, it will be muddled and slowed in terms of adoption process and it will lose its momentum in the market," said Dana Gardner, research director of Internet infrastructure at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston.
IBM's Swainson said the entire industry is asking Sun to standardize Java. "They still could be the good guys," he said. "I don't understand why they continue being the goats."
Some users are less concerned. "Standards battles over Java are like hearing about a civil war 10,000 miles away. [They don't] have a lot of meaning for what we do day to day. I am only interested if it affects the vendor I am buying from," said John Andersen, vice president of engineering at a large bank based in North Carolina.
Additional reporting by Martin LaMonica.
Is Java making the grade?
Research firm Hurwitz Group Inc. has issued its report card on the cross-platform technology.
The overall state of Java (in light of competing technology): B-Java vs. Microsoft: A-Java community process: Structure, A; participation, C; Sun's management of the process, B-Java licensing: BJava and open source: Pass (barely)Business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and business-to-employee: C+, B+, C+Java and integration: 2000, B-; 2002, AJava support of XML: CJava Messaging Service (asynchronous messaging APIs): B-J2EE (Enterprise): 2000, B-; 2001, A-J2SE (Standard) : 2000, C+; 2001, B+J2ME (Micro): 2000, B; 2001, B+