Sun Abandons Java Standard

Sun Microsystems is walking away from the attempt to build a Java standard. Sun explains its actions as a need to preserve Java’s integrity. Industry observers attribute Sun’s abandonment of the standard to disagreements over intellectual property ownership. The standards body, ECMA (formerly called the European Computer Manufacturers Association), required that Sun essentially turn over Java’s copyright. George Paolini, Sun’s head of Java Community development, said, “This is a problem. We cannot abdicate our ownership of copyright.” Sun had been working with ECMA to build a Java standard into Sun’s Java 2 Standard Edition. The result is that Java remains a Sun programming-language specification. To build a product using Java, you must license Java from Sun. Sun determines the changes that anyone can make to the language, and Sun can reject any implementations that it deems unacceptable. If ECMA—or another organization—owned Java’s copyright, ECMA would appoint a committee to hear recommendations for any changes to Java. Trouble had been brewing throughout November in Javaland. At the center of the struggle is TC41, the technical committee that ECMA formed to designate a standard Java spec. TC41’s plan was that Sun would retain the copyright on the original Java spec, but that the new standard, which ECMA would create, would be open property. Sun got wind of TC41’s plan and refused to surrender its copies of the Java specs. TC41 folks noted that it was standard procedure to make open any standards that ECMA created. On December 7, Pat Sueltz, Sun’s new head of software products platforms, announced that Sun would walk away from the Java standard attempt. “There’s no ulterior motive here,” said Sueltz. “This is about keeping Java moving.” Sueltz added that Sun based its decision on the belief that Java has progressed tremendously in the last few years while under Sun’s full control. Jan van den Beld, secretary general of ECMA, threatened that ECMA would create its own Java spec from various sources: public Sun information and non-Sun submissions. Sun pointed out that such a standard, built without Sun’s official Java specs, would only capture about a third of the Java market; van den Beld agreed. Sun accuses van den Beld of wanting to fragment Java and, thus, destroy much of its “one-code, all users write once, run anywhere” appeal.

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