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Wireless Expert Group Divides and Conquers
JSR 37

"Divide and conquer" is a strategy that helped one expert group within the Java Community ProcessSM (JCP) program work through their Java™ Specification Request (JSR).

Division of Concept
Just before the 1999 JavaOne SM conference, Mark VandenBrink, Chief Architect of Motorola, composed a JSR. At the time, there was no such thing as Java™ 2 Micro Edition (J2ME™) and no notion of configurations and profiles. In conversations with several people at Sun, those ideas were born, and it became apparent that the original JSR needed to divide in two. JSR 30: J2ME Connected, Limited Device Configuration (CLDC) and JSR 37: Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) for the J2ME Platform formed the basis of the terminology of configuration and profile, now common in Java technology parlance.

Division of Expert Group
As spec lead for JSR 37, Mark played the divide and conquer strategy again. His 22-member expert group -- experienced in wireless communications and well-versed in Java technology -- split in two teams to work on MIDP JSR 37. Nokia representatives led a team to take on the challenge of user interface issues. Sun Microsystems spearheaded the second team's efforts on networking (HTTP), persistent storage (RMS), and timers/miscellaneous. Mark and his Motorola colleague Jim Van Peursem maintained overall leadership and contributed to the RMS part of the specification and the low-level graphics frameworks.

Division of Time
Gathering representatives from all over the world -- Europe, Canada, Japan, and so forth -- was quite a logistical feat. Taking advantage of the fact that many of his experts also served on the counterpart JSR 30: CLDC, Mark scheduled his two-day meetings to follow the one-day CLDC meetings. On average, over 95 per cent of the experts were able to attend each of the four meetings. They received a detailed agenda in advance, and meetings adhered to it pretty closely. Mark recalls the challenge of "level-setting" expectations at the first meeting, when he had to help 22 companies comprehend and buy into J2ME technology, a radical departure from Sun's previous approach of "subset based on size."

Mark's Words of Wisdom
for Spec Leads:

First, say no.
Say no again. ;-)
Set the overall goals and timeline in the first meeting. If that is all you accomplish, you have a good leg up.
Establish a policy for adoption of suggestions. Jim Van Peursem of Motorola made a simple rule, "code beats paper." Those who suggest altering the spec must be ready to back it up with working code.
Expect to travel. A lot. Face-to-face meetings work better than email for building consensus among wildly divergent viewpoints.
Simplify your spec. Use YANGI -- "You ain't gonna need it" -- as a mantra.
Be organized to the extreme. If your expert group is clicking on all cylinders, they will generate a lot of email and documents.
Keep track of every suggestion. Respond to every email. It gets tougher during public review when hundreds pour in, and most start, "Dear Stupid, How could you have left out <insert your favorite feature>...."
Get technical writers involved. For the most part, engineers don't write particularly well.
Get a test engineer involved early. TCKs are tough enough to write.
The process usually involves going through the spec, identifying <i>assertions</i> about how the code should behave. Without an experienced test engineer to help shape those assertions, you will pay later.
Keep the mood light. Remember we are all human, we make mistakes, and we will disagree on some issues. Build relationships and compromise to achieve the end goal.
When the spec comes out, be prepared to be castigated as well as praised.

Mark says, "Since this was a totally new field, these pioneers were essentially blazing new trails. This extremely impressive group of folk agreed early on to limit the scope and get JSR 37 out in record time." With JSR 37 approved on September 27, 1999, the first meeting occurred two months later. The next three meetings took place about every six weeks after that. Participant review closed in April, public review closed in June, the specification was first released in July, and the JSR went final September, 2000, just a year after it all started.

Division for Consensus
Drafts of the specification were released early and often to keep everyone updated. About ten of the 32 spec releases were sent out to the group at large. The expert group's primary communications venue was email. After the first meeting, the group worked through issues that had been brought up using an extremely active majordomo mailing list -- about 3000 emails circulated during its lifetime.

JSR 37 expert Roger Riggs, a senior staff engineer at Sun Microsystems, notes, "Email is very good to get issues onto the table. Face-to-face meetings are more valuable to solve difficult, multi-dimensional questions. By supporting those two activities and using standard project management techniques -- issuing schedule reminders and stressing the need for particular outcomes and constraints, Mark got people to align around particular solutions." When participants expressed radically different opinions too difficult to address in an open email forum, Mark traveled the globe to meet face-to-face with groups and individuals, where he pushed for clarity on positions and consensus.

PMO Unifies Process
As the first J2ME profile to start and finish, this group learned the Java Community Process program the hard way. In practical terms, that meant consulting the Process Management Office (PMO) to clarify issues in the JCP 1.0 process that were vague and to discover, for example, which experts had signed a Java Specification Participation Agreement (JSPA).

"The PMO was extremely helpful in answering questions and listening to our experiences for feedback into the next JCP process," says Mark. He feels that most of his suggestions were taken seriously and incorporated in the creation of JCP 2.0. The new web site implemented several of his early suggestions, including a home page for each expert group, mailing list, and other ideas. "The JCP is getting better. There are some wrinkles to work out, but by and large having a place to standardize Java APIs in a non-political setting is a good thing," says Mark.

Roger, a veteran participant in industry standards groups, appreciates the Java Community Process for its ability to garner broad participation from many interested companies who are eager to make progress so they can get the technology to market. He says, "The JCP tries to focus on the technology and not the business interests or the market-driven concerns. The process works well when companies bring expertise and technology and when they have the resources to contribute fully to the process."

JSR 37
Expert Group Companies

America Online
Espial Group, Inc.
Motorola, Inc
Research In Motion
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Telcordia Technologies, Inc.

Wireless Industry and Consumers Benefit
JSR 37 arose not from personal whim, but from industry need. According to Mark, "Wireless is moving from being voice-centric to having a large data component. In order to take advantage of this, we in the wireless industry needed a programming environment on the small devices." Wireless, two-way communication devices -- such as cellular phones and two way pagers -- vary radically in form and function, with myriad screen sizes and input devices. Because there is so little commonality in devices today, the expert group tightly focused the scope of the problem by starting with a small subset of what members believed would be needed in the future.

While the process of hammering out JSR 37 flowed fairly smoothly, Mark found the writing of the Reference Implementation (RI) and Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) difficult. He says, "Writing an RI that matches a spec and having a TCK that ensures interoperation is extremely tough."

Nevertheless the expert group rose to the task. "Because the specification was debated in an open and very technical manner, I think we got very good consensus and buy-in from the expert group companies." With the specification now final, Motorola, Nokia, Siemens, Symbian, Research In Motion, and many others have launched or will soon be launching products based on JSR 37.

Mark felt relief when the JSR closed, as well as a certain pride in having seen it through from ground zero to product launch. Now he waits to see how consumers will respond to having rich and appealing content delivered to wherever they are.

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