Java 2 December 1999 Sun Microsystems publicly released a series of eighty mini-programs known as Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) which are designed to enhance large corporate servers. This two-year project had been undertaken by numerous programmers from dozens of companies, working together on what they believed to be an open-source project to enhance the Web-wise Java language created by Sun. Many of these companies now feel betrayed because Sun Microsystems is attempting to levy a royalty against the new release. This decision has especially elicited an angry response from IBM — Sun’s biggest Java partner which developed 80% of the new release. IBM has taken the lead in its refusal to pay the new fees and many smaller companies are following its lead. This latest incident accents the tenuous Java alliance and highlights problems within the open-source movement (i.e., Linux)Kwhen the profit motive takes over, companies stop playing nice. Java was developed by Sun Microsystems to counter the Microsoft Windows monopoly.

Programs written in Java are essentially universally adaptable to run on any type of hardware regardless of underlying operating system. Sun released the technical specifications for open-source use, but still controls the coding standard and Java name. This practice is at the heart of the latest uproar. Companies who develop software using the Java 2 Enterprise Edition must pass a series of Sun compatibility tests while paying three percent of total sales to use the J2EE seal. Sun contends this fee is necessary to defray costs of the Java franchise. Within the past four months only five of two-hundred Java licensees have signed up — IBM not being one of them.

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We’ll support the J2EE extensions — but we won’t use the J2EE brand, says Rodney Smith of IBM’s Java group. Forbes contends the real issue in this corporate contest is not about royalties — it is about control. Although IBM was a major player in J2EE development, Sun Microsystems ultimately dictates Java specifications, compatibility standards, and sets the licensing terms. IBM finds itself obliged to Sun, its rival in the corporate server-world. In addition, Sun recently released iPlanet as competing Web-based software against the IBM WebSphere; both manage Web server applications. IBM is not the only company voicing concerns. BEA Systems and SilverStream Software are smaller companies using the J2EE code in their Web-ware. They also must compete with the iPlanet software and fear Sun Microsystems could use its control of Java to leverage an advantage. Sun acknowledges their concerns and is promising not to act in that manner.

The charges levied against Sun Microsystems have individuals at Microsoft smiling. After years of sanctimonious claims that Java was an open standard, Sun has finally dropped the pretense, notes Charles Fitzgerald, a director in Microsoft’s developer group. There was discussion amongst Java developers advocating Sun Microsystems hand control of the Java standard to an independent panel, theoretically allowing all firms equality in defining Javas future. Sun attempted to work with a standards body but abandoned its latest effort in December. Forbes wonders how the other guys can fight back, suggesting they could form their own Java standards body — over Sun’s objections.

They could develop alternatives to the official Java or pursue different software altogether. In the end, Forbes notes, The most likely outcome is that the fractiousness will continue: These guys need each other. Computers and Internet.