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COMPUTING

Sun wins bid to keep Java from splitting in two

January 18, 1999
Web posted at: 10:13 a.m. EST (1513 GMT)

by Marc Ferranti

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InfoWorld
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(IDG) -- Sun Microsystems has won victories on two fronts in its efforts to keep specifications for real-time extensions to Java from splintering into two standards -- a prospect that has alarmed developers and potential users.

During a week-long series of meetings, dinners and private discussions in San Diego, Sun made headway in its attempt to patch up differences with an alliance called the Java Real Time Working Group, which includes Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

And to cap the intense diplomatic efforts, a national standards body, the National Committee for Information Technology Standardization (NCITS), in a vote rejected the Working Group's proposal that the NCITS manage development of real-time Java standards separately from a Sun-sanctioned process.

The Working Group was formed in early November 1998, partly out of frustration over Sun's control of the process by which specifications for Java APIs were being created. In December it submitted an application to work under the auspices of NCITS.

The Working Group includes heavyweights such as HP -- which has its own Chai implementation of the Java virtual machine -- Microsoft, Siemens, and Rockwell Collins, as well as smaller companies.

The possibility that Java might splinter into incompatible versions if two separate groups ended up working on real-time extensions to the language has struck fear in users and many developers.

The U.S. Department of Defense was so concerned about the possibility of having two different specifications of Java for real-time systems that it met with major vendors developing Java applications to express its consternation. The Department of Defense may use Java for, among other things, real-time command-control systems for airplanes.

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"Having to test applications against two different sets of specs would greatly increase development costs and slow acceptance of Java" by the government and other users, according to Dr. Greg Bollella, lead IBM engineer for real-time Java, who attended the emergency Department of Defense meeting and who is in the Sun camp.

The stakes for Java are high. The market for Java in real-time embedded systems is potentially vast, because billions of chips are shipped each year for devices that range from toys to telecommunications switches to missiles, Bollella said.

Several members of the Working Group have been impressed by Sun's new-found openness.

"Sun is being a lot more flexible; I and other companies here, have liked what we've heard," said Bruce Khavar, president of Cyberonix Inc., a member of the Working Group based in Berkeley, Calif.

HP, for its part, has said that it still has questions about Sun's proposals, and has said that it joined the Working Group because Sun's process was too slow and not open enough.

But although Sun has won a few battles, it may have to fight another day. Some members of the Working Group may regroup and submit yet another proposal that the NCITS take on the work of managing the development of real-time Java specifications.

Marc Ferranti is news editor for the IDG News Service.

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