CRN Interview: Bill Roth, Sun

Sun says that it aims to keep a level playing field for J2EE Licensees. Bill Roth, J2EE Group Product Manager, discusses the issue.

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By  Colin Browne Published  November 26, 2000

Sun says that it aims to keep a level playing field for J2EE Licensees. Bill Roth, J2EE Group Product Manager, discusses the issue.

How does the testing process to become J2EE-compatible work? Does Sun have strict control over it?

The compatibility test suite is only available to licensees. [Basically] there are three kinds of tests. The first is to make sure the technology is there, the second is to make sure it works and the third is to make sure it works together.

Then a licensee self-certifies. They tell us, ‘We have passed the tests,’ and they do not have to submit the test results to us. We have someone on-site helping them run the tests.

Does that person have to say the licensee is compatible?

In general, we get confirmation from our licensee engineer, but they do not submit anything to us. We keep a ‘dashboard,’ where we chart each of our licensees.

Generally, on any given day, I know how many parts [of the J2EE test kit] someone is or isn’t passing. But we have someone working there because we want people to pass as fast as possible.

Sun owns half of iPlanet, the first licensee to pass all of the J2EE compatibility tests. Some other vendors think iPlanet got special treatment in the process. What do you say to that?

For the record, iPlanet received no special help from anyone at Sun. They were just really committed [to passing the tests].

[For example] BEA . . . these guys are the market leader. We gave BEA the same if not more help than iPlanet. We will give any vendor that wants to be compatible plenty of help.

Sun has created a standard for J2EE, but Sun is the only place where vendors can get compatibility approval for it—and it charges a fee. Does that give Sun a monopoly on the standard?

Well, every standard is owned by somebody. CORBA is owned by a corporation—you pay to be a member of the Object Management Group. We have no more or less control over J2EE than the Object Management Group has over CORBA.

The control aspect is properly viewed as stewardship of the technology. If we try to keep this technology for ourselves and we overcontrol it, the technology will die.

We walk on the razor’s edge between controlling the technology and keeping it open. We walk a fine line. And it’s important that both the community and the press continue to monitor how we maintain our stewardship of Java technology.

J2EE licensing provides a dilemma for open-source companies that, by nature, don’t use proprietary technology in their products. Yet if an open-source company wants to sell a Java application server, it must pay to become J2EE-compliant to keep up with the market. What do you say to open-source companies that think Sun isn’t supporting them with J2EE?

I think Sun has shown its commitment to open source. [But] there is a fundamental conflict between open source and trying to produce a compatible standard. Sun maintains a locus of control over J2EE and Java to preserve compatibility.

If we were to let the source out of our control, there would be no way to guarantee that open-source implementations would be compatible. It’s like Linux; there isn’t just one Linux. They’re all different enough to produce a compatibility nightmare.

You have to ask, “Which Linux?” Our goal is to not ask, “Which Java?”

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