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SUN MICROSYSTEMS last week abandoned its efforts to establish the Java programming language as an official industry standard, reversing its earlier decision to submit Java to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (Ecma) standards body.

Concerns about how well Java would be protected led to Sun's deciding to form a working group headed by George Paolini to boost development through the Java community and ensure proper communications with the whole industry.

At the heart of the move is the amount of control Sun wishes to retain over developing Java and its unwillingness to give up copyrights. Ceding too much control to an outside body leads to the possibility of a new version of the language that may not work on all platforms - something the company has fought to prevent Microsoft from implementing.

Sun's chief executive, Scott McNealy, said Sun would "continue to refine [its] open licensing model in interesting ways... The problem with standards bodies is they can be influenced by the dark side. They can be very political... they need money to run and have to listen to their constituents, which change over time."

IBM and Sun disagree over the issue. IBM maintains that Sun has too much control over the language and that all companies should have an equal say in its development and use. It has endorsed a proposal to consider going ahead to establish a standard without Sun's help - a move Sun says is doomed, as only a third of the Java specification is available without copyright restrictions.

THE CREATORS of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have been signed to make a series of original short animations on the Web using Flash technology for the Shockwave.com site. They have signed a deal with Macromedia for 39 two-to-five-minute episodes, to start next year. Some of the stories and characters will eventually filter through to TV and film productions - a reversal of the usual flow of original material.

"Virtually everything on the Web has been created for some other purpose - TV, video games - and then people used the Web as another way to market it," said Robert Burgess, Macromedia chief executive. "[Parker and Stone] are the first big stars to create original properties for the Internet."

Financial details were not disclosed, although The New York Times reported that Parker and Stone, who will retain creative control, would receive an equity share of less than 10 per cent in Shockwave.com.

ERICSSON AND Microsoft announced a partnership last week saying they would be developing smart phones to connect directly to the Internet and corporate local area networks for Web browsing and e-mail. Microsoft's president, Steve Ballmer, said the companies would also like to work together in other Internet areas such as instant messaging and online calendars.

Both companies hinted that they could include other companies in their alliance. "Anything will be possible, if it's beneficial for both companies and for the industry," said Kurt Hellstroem, Ericsson's president. "Exclusivity doesn't work in this world any longer."

The new phones should be on sale early next year, designed by Ericsson including its Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) format and using Microsoft Mobile Explorer browser software. Windows CE will not be used as the operating system.

MICROSOFT MAY have temporarily retreated from the battle for the instant messaging (IM) market, but AOL last week had to contend with AT&T's bid to enable users of AT&T I'm Here software to communicate with AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM).

AOL's response is the same as when Microsoft tried to make its instant messaging software inter-operable with AIM - it is blocking the attempts, claiming that unauthorised use of its servers is a form of hacking and poses security threats to AOL members. An AT&T spokesman, Ritch Blasi, said: "We don't want to go through the same thing Microsoft went through."

AT&T's president, Ed Chatlos, said: "The Internet should allow open, easy and instant online communication among everyone... [It] is no place for artificial communications boundaries."

Some analysts speculate that AOL, which has a massive market lead with 80 million users of AIM and ICQ, will not budge in the short term, but that their stance could backfire later. Rob Enderle, of Giga Information Group, told Cnet: "They may be next on the list for government intervention."

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