Java Goes ISO

Sun Explains Their PAS Submitter Strategy

By Ken Urquhart, Sun Microsystems, Inc.


Editor's Note: This article, written exclusively for UniNews online, is an invited response to the Standards Spotlight column, by Carl Cargill, appearing in the April 11 issue of UniNews online.


On March 27, 1995, the first public alpha version of Java was made available by Sun Microsystems, Inc. Less than one year later, on January 23, 1996, version 1.0 of the Java Development Kit (JDK) was released. By the first JavaOne Java Developer's Conference, held in April 1996, it was clear that Sun's Java technologies had opened up a potentially huge new marketplace for software consumers and developers.

While Sun probably could have kept Java proprietary, it chose to keep with its long tradition of being an open systems company and took quite a different approach.

First, it implemented an open process that allowed anyone to actively participate in the development and evolution of the Java Platform (defined as the Java language, the virtual machine, and the application programming interfaces). This process has been in place since the release of JDK 1.0 and has proven to be very successful in achieving broad industry consensus for changes and additions to the Java Platform. Full details of this process can be found in the Java Standardization Whitepaper that is available for download at Sun's Java web site

Second, Sun opened up the Java marketplace to competition. Over the summer of 1996, Addison-Wesley began to publish a series of books called The Java Series...from the SourceTM written by people who have been intimately involved in the development of Java. These books contain detailed interface specifications for version 1.0.2 of the Java Platform. The books contain a short and simple licensing agreement whereby Sun grants the purchaser the right to create and distribute clean room implementations of the specifications in their entirety.

These books, along with their bound-in license agreements, are essentially saying: Here are the complete, detailed interface specifications for the Java Platform. There are no hidden interfaces. Nothing has been deliberately obscured or left out. You may implement these specifications in products without any legal consequences provided you remain fully compatible.

These two decisions resulted in both industry and academia accepting Java faster than any other programming language in history. The ability to write a program once and then run it anywhere held wide appeal due to the potentially tremendous savings in both program development time and project cost. As of February 1997, there were over 75 major licensees of Java and it has been ported to virtually all high-volume operating system and hardware combinations. Many companies have made large investments in the Java technologies and universities are now actively using Java to teach the principles of computer science to the next generation of software engineers.

Standardization - protecting the industry investment in Java
Sun recognizes that any such rapid and significant investments in new technology are inevitably accompanied by a general desire by the industry to protect its investments. The best way to do that is to move Java into a stable, experienced, formal standards organization: one that is recognized worldwide by government and industry, as well as other standards bodies; one that has well defined processes and procedures by which any materially interested party can contribute, monitor, and vote on proposed changes to the technology.

For technologies like Java, that organization is ISO/IEC JTC1. International standards issued by JTC1 are recognized throughout the world. In many countries in Europe and Asia, they constitute the technical regulatory basis for public procurement of goods and services in the information technology sector. The transposition of Java specifications into JTC1 international standards makes them eligible for such procurement, and widens the market for Java-based products.

The many paths to an ISO/IEC JTC1 international standard
There are many paths by which a technology can reach ISO/IEC JTC1. For example, there are a number of very good consortia, liaison committees, and national bodies that have well-defined processes for discussing, developing and refining technologies until they reach a level of maturity and widespread acceptance that makes them suitable for submission to ISO/IEC JTC1. However, in the case of many of Sun's Java technologies, where the specifications are already stable, well-documented, and internationally accepted, there is a faster, more direct route: the ISO/IEC JTC1 PAS (Publically Available Specification) process.

The PAS process
JTC1 created the PAS process to encourage and assist the transposition of technical specifications from sources outside of JTC1 into international standards. It was designed to make the standards process responsive to the needs of the fast-paced information technology sector. Organizations that are granted PAS status can submit their publicly available specifications to JTC1 for ballot by the latter's National member bodies. The PAS process is responsive to the fast paced needs of the information technology sector. If a specification is submitted in good form, and there are no comments from any of the JTC1 member bodies at the end of balloting, then the process of transposing the specification into an international standard could take as little as seven months. If comments are received, then the process can take somewhat longer because the PAS submitter must address and resolve all comments before JTC1 can issue the new standard.

Any specifications submitted to JTC1 for transposition must be open, fully documented, well tested, readily available, and widely adopted by industry. Furthermore, organizations that apply to JTC1 for PAS submitter status need to be stable bodies that develop specifications using reasonable processes that achieve broad consensus among many parties. They must also be willing to license their technologies on a fair and non-discriminatory basis.

Sun's Java specifications are barrier-free with respect to use and implementation and thus meet and/or exceed JTC1 Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) requirements.

Sun's Java specifications are barrier-free with respect to use and implementation and thus meet and/or exceed JTC1 Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) requirements. In addition, Java has been so widely adopted that it is already a de facto standard in the marketplace. As such, Java is a natural fit for the PAS transposition process. Sun develops and evolves its Java technologies using an open process that has achieved broad industry consensus and has a history of licensing its technologies in a fair and non-discriminatory way. Given this, JTC1 members encouraged Sun to apply for submitter status when Sun approached them to discuss the standardization of Java.

What does Java standardization mean to the industry?
Standardizing Java technologies through JTC1 will guarantee stability and ensure that the technologies that become International Standards will evolve using JTC1's well-defined processes and procedures by which any materially interested party can contribute, monitor, and vote on proposed changes. Sun believes that this the best way to protect the substantial investments being made in Java by industries, governments, and researchers worldwide.

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