Sun to Simplify Java

Saying the language is getting too fragmented; Sun looks to control the J2EE 1.4 release with new metadata and a forthcoming advisory council.

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Sun Microsystems Wednesday said it wants to make Java simpler and more straightforward.

Company CTO John Fowler said his team plans to "reduce the amount of fragmentation" going on in the Java community by doing more outreach and education for developers and vendors. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also said it will establish a new advisory council in April.

"Simplicity has been one of our core values from the beginning," Fowler said. "When we started Java we solved a problem for folks and then allowed them to participate and make it better."

The networking giant is currently reworking its strategy on Java and its many variants such as J2EE (Enterprise Edition), J2SE (Standard Edition) and J2ME (Micro Edition). Fowler says Sun is looking forward to the February release of its J2EE version 1.4, which is expected to incorporate Java API for XML-Based RPC (JAX-RPC), SOAP with Attachments API for Java (SAAJ), Web Services for J2EE, J2EE Management Model, J2EE Deployment API, Java Management Extensions (JMX), J2EE Authorization Contract for Containers and Java API for XML Registries (JAXR).

The company is emphasizing the use of layers - or "abstractions" - basically metadata that would allow the core kernel of the runtime language to perform in different ways. Such is the case of the metadata being addressed in Java Standard Review (JSR) number 175. Currently under review, the spec would "allow classes, interfaces, fields, and methods to be marked as having particular attributes." Sun cited JSR number 198 as another example of its metadata approach, but conceded that Oracle was the driving force behind the proposal.

"When developers come through the process, they don't wait for the standards to come forward," said Fowler. "Our goal is getting the tools in the developers hands."

Sun said it would boost developer support in India and China as well as Linux developers, which the company is expected to meet face-to-face at next week's LinuxWorld Expo in New York.

One thing Sun will have to put on the fast track is the company's imminent inclusion in Microsoft's latest operating system. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz Thursday said Microsoft has 120 days to build Java into Windows. Motz decided on 120 days, after Sun lawyers asked for 90 days, while Microsoft's legal team ask the judge for a three-phase approach over 180 days. Microsoft is expected to appeal the ruling, after the judge issues his formal order sometime next week.

One critical issue is that Sun said it will not offer up Java as an open source format, nor will it join IBM's initiative. Instead, Sun said it would stand on its five largest open source initiatives including JXTA, JINI, Net Beans, and grid computing.

But the task of keeping so many variants of the Java programming language inline is akin to trying to herd cats.

Sun by its own accounts does not have an accurate headcount of its developers because the company does not demand registration or payment for using its development tools.

"The numbers can be misleading, but one of our most robust sites is NetBeans, which we estimate to have thousands of developers," said Sun Strategic Marketing Director Ingrid Van Den Hoogen. "Perhaps we should be forcing registrations, but we know if we do it might prevent some developers from using our platform."

The company is also working on the concept of shared communities such as in the wireless space. Sun currently has content sharing agreements with Nokia and AT&T Wireless on various mobile platforms. Sun said it wants to extend that into sponsoring developer-to-developer programs, aggregation programs, investments in open source and global sponsorships.

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