Resolving to boost Java's acceptance among corporate IT managers, Sun Microsystems is refashioning the Java standards process as it edges toward the first bona fide standard version of the language. This month it will unveil changes to the Java standards process used to identify and create new APIs and specifications, bringing a Big Five accounting firm into the fold to audit the steps.
The change comes amid concerns that Sun is adopting practices similar to its biggest rival, Microsoft, as it lags in its own efforts to publish a standard Java. Initially, Sun created a multiple-step process for developing new APIs or revising old ones. That process was one of the keys to Sun's winning "official submitter" status for Java by the International Standards Organisation.
Now, Sun is taking the extra step of having an outside auditing firm monitor the process in real time to ensure that no single vendor co-opts the process for its own benefit. "The point is to ensure that all of the steps are followed, remove any doubt about whether corners are cut and show that the rules have been followed," said Jim Mitchell, vice president of technology and architecture for Sun's Java Division.
The auditing firm will satisfy the question of how Sun maintains the Java standard once it is submitted to the ISO, Mitchell said. "This goes above and beyond what any standards body does," he added.
Adding an outside auditing firm is the first significant move Sun has made to assert its ISO authority as Java's shepherd and move the process for true standardisation forward. The move should ease some concern over Sun's plans to buy Java application server maker NetDynamics. That bid increased fears among some ISVs that Sun would leverage its control over Java APIs and specifications into an unfair advantage for its own Java applications.
"[Sun has] to know that one of the big reasons Java has done well so far is because it's open, and for Java to continue to push forward it has to stay open," said Charlie Bonomo, director of information management systems at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "This only makes it more solid."
"Sun stands to gain nothing if it tries to control Java, and it knows that," said Eric Lehrfeld, director of business development with Random Walk Computing, a Java developer in New York. "This sends a clear signal that it is serious about keeping its product effort separate from its Java platform efforts."
Microsoft, however, remains on the outside looking in, due to its lawsuit with Sun. Last week, officials said a hearing on Sun's motion to halt shipment of Windows 98 and Microsoft tools is set for September 4. Sun also released data on compliance tests that it performed on Microsoft Java products. Some incompatibilities have been fixed, officials said, but a recurring sticking point-the Java Native Interface-has not be resolved. "Why doesn't Sun just turn this over to a standards body now?" asked Microsoft product manager Joe Herman. "They can't call [Java] open when they control the standard."
The new auditing process, due to begin in September, will first apply to the Personal Java specs. It will not affect the next release of the JDK (Java Development Kit). Version 1.2 is scheduled to enter its fourth beta test this week at Summer Internet World in Chicago and ship in September.
Sun will "normalise" the specifications for JDK 1.2 into ISO language and submit that version-language, compiler, class libraries and virtual machine-to the ISO as a final standard, Mitchell said. That process should be completed by next spring.
Despite Sun's efforts, some users remain gun-shy about one vendor ultimately controlling the Java language.
"I think Microsoft, [Hewlett-Packard] and Sun are going to do their own implementation of the Java VM anyway," said Rabi Satter, chief technology officer for Apres Technology, "and [any partnership] is bound to fracture eventually."