JAVAONE: IBM, Sun likely to continue Java rift

Companies will still disagree over Java, say developers

June 30, 2005—Just because IBM and Sun Microsystems made a show of playing nice at JavaOne this week in San Francisco does not mean the two companies have entirely repaired their rift over the development of Java standards, observers at the annual Java developers conference said.

At JavaOne Wednesday, Robert LeBlanc, general manager of WebSphere for IBM, said IBM is committed to working within the group that sets the Java standards, called the Java Community Process, (JCP) to propel Java forward, despite any disagreement his company has had with Sun over the evolution of Java.

"We're going to continue to participate and drive Java through the community," Le Blanc said in a keynote Wednesday afternoon. "We've had our little differences [with Sun] in the process, but we're going to continue to drive forward because it's for the good of the industry, the good of customers and the good of the community."

Earlier this week, IBM committed to using Java and the Java brand until 2016 through a renewed license for Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE), Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE), Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME), and Java Card. However, many feel that even with the renewed license, IBM will continue to set its own course when it comes to Java, working apart from the JCP to provide standard platforms on which developers can build applications.

"IBM has been branching off on its own," said Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis. "IBM has had a problem with the way the JCP has been governed. I think they'll [continue to] diverge in a lot of cases from the JCP."

One of IBM's most recent divergences was to drop out of the expert group for JSR 208, more commonly known as Java Business Integration, a proposed standard for integration applications using Java.

But dissatisfaction with Sun's control of the JCP was still not enough to prevent IBM from renewing its Java license.

"There's been a lot of contention [between IBM and Sun], but IBM didn't have a choice—they are so committed to Java and the brand," said John Rymer, a vice president at Forrester Research. "Sun needed IBM to re-up and pay big bucks for the 10-year license, and IBM knew that Sun needed them to support Solaris on x86."

Though Sun and IBM worked closely in the early days of Java to develop the original standards around the technology, the two companies have branched off considerably since Java became the foundation for a broader Web services platform.

IBM began aligning itself more closely with Microsoft in developing Web services standards. The two companies formed the Web Services Interoperability organization in February 2002, leaving Sun out of the original board of founders.

The rivalry between IBM and Sun had come to a head even earlier, however. In late 2001, IBM released the Eclipse open source framework as the basis for Java tools, its name an apparent jab against Sun. Eclipse has since become a popular IDE that has indeed eclipsed Sun's own open source Java tools IDE, NetBeans.

Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz said that Sun and IBM don't always see eye to eye over Java, but that it isn't hard for them to mend fences when necessary.

"IBM sees the world differently than Sun," Schwartz said at JavaOne. "Sometimes we have to get in the room and talk about it."

Still, while Sun is open to making NetBeans interoperate with Eclipse, the company has no intention of throwing in the towel and giving up NetBeans in favor of the IBM project.

"If you look at adoption trends to NetBeans, we're seeing a big ramp of adoption occurring there," Schwartz said. "Let me be clear: there's no one hammer for all nails. Developers more than anything like choice."

And it's also clear that Sun continues to watch IBM's Java moves carefully as Big Blue continues to forge its own path independently of Sun.

In fact, Danese Cooper, an Open Source Initiative board member and former manager of Sun's Open Source Programs Office, said that IBM's purchase of open source software vendor Gluecode may have been one of the reasons Sun chose to release its own Java application server to open source this week.

Gluecode was one of the primary contributors to the Apache Software Foundation's open source J2EE application server, Geronimo.

"I think what's going to be interesting is to watch the interplay between companies who have gone to Apache with the hope of influencing something [around Java standards] because they couldn't influence it by going to [Sun]," said Cooper, who now oversees open source efforts at Intel.

In his talk Wednesday, LeBlanc said that IBM is "throwing a lot of weight" behind Geronimo, and will continue to contribute code to the project. IBM also offers product support for Geronimo.

Robert McMillan, a correspondent for the IDG News Service, contributed to this story.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a San Francisco-based correspondent for the IDG News Service.

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