Attempts to get Sun Microsystems to finally hand over its Java programming language went south this week when a bid from ECMA was rebuffed and Sun called in its favorite Java licensees to form a loose-knit cabal that the company is now describing as a standards body. It's just another day in the wacky world of Java, which has snubbed every attempt at standardization that's been thrown its way. For a company that's battling Microsoft Corporation for the hearts and minds of developers, Sun seems to have forgotten a crucial point: Java's "write once, run anywhere" appeal doesn't amount to much if Java is nothing more than a platform that's controlled by a single company. You know, like Windows, just without the installed base.

The proposal from legitimate standards body ECMA was turned down by Sun Microsystems vice president George Paolini this week. Given the company's behavior toward standards bodies in the past, one can only wonder whether this stalling tactic was preordained.

"A golden opportunity has now been missed, which would have been beneficial for all users and suppliers of Java," ECMA secretary general Jan van den Beld told Smart Reseller this week. "Every element of sensitiveness and subtlety is missing by blaming ECMA and ECMA's Technical Committee 41 for having not been able to do and complete a successful standardization project."

Sun claims that one of the issues is the Java copyright, which the ECMA refuses to protect through the standards process. But the ongoing problems with Microsoft have caused Sun to look to standardization as a way to fend off bastardized versions of the language from the software giant, which publishes a Visual J++ development tool and other Java products. Also, Sun is gathering its key Java licensees to form a self-styled "Java Community Process 2.0," which will attempt to speed the development of the language. But Sun risks fracturing the language and denying it the benefits of true standardization: Bjarne Stroustrup's C++ flew through the standardization process in the 1980's and 1990's because its creator knew that working with these bodies was key to getting the programming language accepted.

Developers aren't idiots, Sun. All the anti-Microsoft fanaticism in the world can't change one crucial problem for Java: If you're going to develop for a single platform that is controlled by one company, it may as well be the one that has all the users. And right now, that's Windows.