Sun Microsystems' foot-dragging on the standardisation of Java will come to a head on December 16 when a general assembly of the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA) meets to discuss Sun's concerns over intellectual property rights, a sticking point that could derail the process.
For corporate developers and independent software vendors (ISVs), the cloak and dagger politicking is causing some trepidation and confusion over how and whether Java's standardisation should take shape. At the heart of the matter is whether Java can continue to grow in Sun's long shadow or whether Sun should relinquish control of the technology for it to truly become an open standard.
"It's a fine line that Sun must walk because everybody sees the danger of having Java be 'Unixfied', meaning there's no one gatekeeper controlling the standard," said Bruce Scott, CEO of PointBase, which sells an embedded database written in Java, in California. "Of course, it's also important to have a community process in place to allow partners from all over the industry to participate."
Sun recently removed its Java specification from consideration by ECMA, which may have adopted Java as a standard, because of concerns about ECMA's rules, or lack thereof, regarding copyright laws.
"We continue to look for ways to make it more inclusive, but we are going to continue to maintain control in a way that ensures the technology evolves for the greater good of the industry," said George Paolini, vice president of marketing at Sun.
According to Jayson Minard, chief technology officer at Open Avenue, a Web-based provider of open-source software in California, Sun's control has led to an efficiency in Java's evolution that could not have been accomplished under the auspices of a standards body.
"I don't see why it's necessary to have a standards body. I haven't seen any hindrance [without it]," Minard said. "In fact, because it's doing so well, I'd be fearful of changing anything."
Other developers think that the industry will demand that Java belong to an outside organisation.
"There are a number of significant parties that will not let Sun become the dictator and demise of Java," one developer said. "There are a lot of companies bigger than Sun that are putting a tremendous amount of faith in the fact that Java is going to become a standard. These companies have bet the farm on Java, and they aren't going to let Sun screw that up."
In the long run, the best approach may be for Sun to continue shepherding Java until the platform is mature enough to be turned over to a standard like ECMA, said Tom Dwyer, a research director at the Aberdeen Group.
"If there were any signs of weakness, we would see them in the community process, and I just don't see that," Dwyer said. "As long as there are ways for various suppliers to feel included in the process, Java will remain strong."