Friday December, 1999

Java: To Hell In A Handbasket?

Deborah Gage, ZDNet

Sun Microsystems is scrambling to hold together its coalition of Java partners in the wake of its decision not to submit Java to a standards body.

Sun Software president Pat Sueltz has issued personal invitations to developer partners to attend a workgroup next week and help Sun figure out how to improve its Java Community Process and become a trustworthy steward of Java.

Meanwhile, the European-based industry association ECMA on Dec. 16 will vote on whether to standardize Java without Sun. The vendor removed its specification due to concerns over a copyright violation. But that has created a rift in the Java world. IBM Corp. is backing a standards effort by ECMA, which has discussed issuing a standard in December 2000, and questions Sun's claim that only 20 percent to 30 percent of the specification is publicly available in non-copyrighted form.

Canada and Japan also are willing to move forward without Sun, although Japan has asked for clarification on exactly how that would occur.

Only Seven Signed Licensees

Sun's promise to make Java an international standard bolstered Sun's credibility with partners and developers, who are now reluctant to trust a for-profit company with something as important as Java.

Of the 54 companies Sun claimed as supporters at its Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) rollout in New York, only seven had signed licenses for J2EE by the time of Sun's announcement, according to Sun partners.

IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer, BEA Systems, Apple Computer and Novell were not even listed among the supporters, although Novell says it makes no sense to license J2EE since the platform will be supported by Novell's application server partners. BEA has reached an "agreement in spirit" but has not signed, and Compaq is taking a "wait-and-see attitude." HP "is very disappointed" and will cast its vote on Dec. 16, says Java marketing manager Dana Marks.

"We're committed to Java--we're not walking away. But we're also committed to open standards," says Rod Smith, IBM's VP of Java. "Java owes its explosive growth to the Internet."

Partners have aired a laundry list of concerns about Sun, ranging from flaws in the Java Community Process to hyping technology before it's ready to forcing Byzantine license agreements and compatibility requirements on its partners. For example, while IBM's license permits it to run Sun's J2EE compatibility tests and support the technology without supporting the brand, companies under Sun's community source license do not have that option.

"We have no problem paying Sun money, but we want to make sure we understand the value of the J2EE brand since IBM has said they're not supporting it," says Kenneth Rubin, COO of Secant Technologies. "What we're doing right now is customer education--this brand is only one day old."

Keeping Church And State Separate

And while several partners praised Sun's work so far in developing Java and in keeping a fairly clean separation between "church and state," they say it's important to have credible processes in place because there is more work to be done. Novell Internet evangelist Steve Holbrook describes J2EE as "desktop Java crammed into a server" and says that performance, scalability, and security can all be improved for enterprise customers.

Sun still has negotiating room--J2EE and its compatibility tests will be released on the Web on Dec. 17, and no one can say how compatible anyone is until the tests are available.