Sun, the creator of Java and sole licensor of the technology, has taken the first steps towards making the technology an open standard.
Last week Sun submitted proposals to the joint technical committee of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
The move was seen by many in the industry as an astute gesture by Sun, which has lobbied hard to ensure the adoption of Java throughout the networked world. It has also silenced criticism from Microsoft, which in the past has accused Sun of protecting Java as a proprietary technology. If the joint committee accepts the proposals, Java could become an open standard by July.
Sun has made it clear that it will not be handing over either the source code or the Java trademark, but it will hand over the language, the class libraries, APIs and the VM. Companies that want to make their own Java products will be able to use the standard specification - but not under the Java name.
But even with all the activity around Java, the popularity of the language has been thrown into some doubt by research suggesting it has barely made an impression on the majority of Web sites (see PC Week 25 February 1997).
This feeling was echoed by Owen Geddis, general manager of NetBenefit Web Design in London. He said: "We don't think Java has got an incredible future even if it does become more open. In most cases it's used for creating appealing animations and cool graphics. Programs like Shockwave are far better for the job."
But Jonathan Cuffe, a freelance developer in Sussex, welcomed the move.
He said: "This is a good move from Sun. The fact is Java is still expensive, both in terms of development time and the actual cost of hiring a developer to get a job done. But if this move makes it more widely available the costs will inevitably fall."
Microsoft and Sun were both asked to comment but were unable to do so.
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