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Flashback to '04: "Let Java Go" – ESR Writes Open Letter to Sun

"'Mr. CEO, tear down that wall," pleads Eric Raymond

  • Read this Open Letter in its original version at Eric Raymond's Web site
  • Read a previous Open Letter from ESR published at LinuxWorld
  • The open-source community has been hearing reports that you have recently said of Sun Microsystem's strategy "The open-source model is our friend". We're glad to hear that, and Sun's support of OpenOffice.org certainly puts some weight behind the claim. But that support is curiously inconsistent, spotty in ways which suggests that Sun is confused in the way it thinks about and executes its open-source strategy.

    That confusion is evident in another of your quotes. Many of us think you are right on when you say that "Sun [...] is less threatened by a zero-revenue model for software than just about anybody out there." We agree that the potential for you in using open-source software as a value multiplier for Sun's hardware business is huge. This wouldn't even be a novel move for Sun; your release of the NFS standards in 1984 was possibly the single most successful market-shaping maneuver in your company's history, and we'd love to help you repeat it.

    But the casual equation between "open source" and "zero revenue" suggests that on another level you don't really know what you're talking about. Open source is hardly a zero-revenue model; ask Red Hat, which had a share price over triple Sun's when I just checked. Or ask IBM, which is using Linux as a lever to build a huge systems-integration business in markets like financial services that Sun has historically owned.

    It doesn't have to be this way. If Sun were prepared to go all the way with open source it could seize back its position of industry leadership. Sun is one of a small handful of companies that would both have the smarts and the street cred to do even better than IBM has from a full-fledged alliance with the open-source community. Indeed, on historical grounds you might do better; many of the senior people in the movement are old-time Unix hackers who remember that Sun was founded by geeks like us at a time when IBM was the Great Satan.

    But Sun has done other things that make us wonder if the vision and courage to choose the open-source path are really there. The suspicion persists that OpenOffice.org is just an expedient way to poke Microsoft in the eye, not the cutting edge of a open-source-friendly strategy that will position Sun for the future. Matters aren't helped by the fact that Sun appears, with Microsoft, to be one of the two companies doing most to stuff SCO's war chest for its attack on Linux.

    In 1987, three years after the success of NFS, Sun lost the war to define the standard graphics interface for the next generation. The winner, the X Window System, was technically inferior to Sun's NeWS offering. But X had one critical advantage; it was open source. Ten years later in 1997, when Bill Joy came to a Linux conference to push Jini as a universal network-service protocol, we in the open-source community told him straight up "You can have ubiquity or you can have control. Pick one." He picked control, and Jini failed in its promise. The contrast with NFS could hardly be more stark.

    Today, the big issue is Java. Sun's insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Sun's long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community, ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl. Once again the choice is between control and ubiquity, and despite your claim that "open source is our friend" Sun appears to be choosing control. Sun's terms are so restrictive that Linux distributions cannot even include Java binaries for use as a browser plugin, let alone as a standalone development tool.

    Mr. CEO, tear down that wall. You have millions of potential allies out here in the open-source community who would love to become Java developers and users if it didn't mean ceding control of their future to Sun. If you're serious about being a friend of open source, if you're serious about preparing Sun for the future we can all see coming in which code secrecy and proprietary lock-in will no longer be viable strategies, prove it. Let Java go.

    Eric S, Raymond
    President, Open Source Initiative
    12 Feb 2004

    More Stories By Eric S. Raymond

    Eric Raymond, usually known in the Open Source community simply by his initials, ESR, is President, Open Source Initiative.

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    Most Recent Comments
    TriLetterized SchmiLetterized 05/05/06 03:00:06 AM EDT

    How can one *possibly* take serious someone who writes about himself, as Eric Raymond does, on his own website, as follows:

    "I'm one of the half-dozen or so most influential people in [the open source] movement; in fact, a lot of people would put me among the top three, with Linus Torvalds and Richard M. Stallman.

    The community has a tradition of tri-letterizing its heroes - I suppose that began with Stallman, already a hero when I was a fledgling programmer in the early 1980s, who was generally known as RMS even then. Linus Torvalds is just "Linus", perhaps because (unlike "Richard" or "Eric") one can refer to him by simply first name with very little risk of aliasing problems.

    I think I started to be routinely triletterized into "ESR" around 1998."

    Here's the link, so that you can read this for yourself if you don't believe me: http://www.catb.org/~esr/who-is-ESR.html

    Jared Davis 03/08/04 07:53:33 AM EST

    I think that you need to take a look at what the Java market share is competing against. Java does not, on the main, compete with PERL or Python. In fact, Java's biggest competitor, and threat, is Visual Basic.

    Than's right, visual basic. Right now, as you read this you are thinking "what a joke, this guy doesn't know what he is talking about".

    In fact, I do know whatI am talking about. Out here in corporate america, where the IT standards are truly tested, paid for, and set Java is The King, and not in the prince charles way, but in the Elvis way. And VB is the second in the succession.

    That is right, everyone is moving from C, not to perl, python, or even Visual Basic (VB seems to be limited to new app development, not replacement). And they are moving to Java. Not for OS or compiler programming. But for industrial strength web apps.

    And do you know why? Two reasons.

    1) Java makes networking, threading, and database connectivity trivial. Go read O'Reilly's "Learning java" to see the one page of source code it takes to create an HTTP server. With Java, you don't need to have a massive programming crew to use every processor on your Enterprise 15k system. One programmer can do that. Heck, I can do that, and I am not even a programmer.

    2) Java is darned close to being open source. YOu get it for free. You get Sun's Netbeans (Ok, who cares if they have the copyright to netbeans or not, they pay for it) for free, you get the best API documentation on the planet, FREE. You can take the base java class and change it in any way you want. Just extend it. All other classes derive from the Object base class, so there is your true open source. You can write a JVM (the specs are avaialable), you can write a Java Compiler (specs available).

    So, what really is your beef? Or is Microsoft so impermeable that you have to look for an easier target for your senseless pandering to the OpenSource community. If you really want to help the freeware cause, start hacking.

    Otherwise, you are just a "wannabe".

    Robert Morelli 02/29/04 08:30:51 PM EST

    This is a reformat of the same comment above.

    # Layton commented on 27 February 2004:

    * *

    >>As far as ESR's track record on economic predictions goes,
    >>need I comment? I can remember interviews he gave 3 or 4
    >>years ago in which he predicted the imminent collapse of
    >>Microsoft's monopoly, within 6 months or so. In one
    >>interview several years ago he also predicted that Linux
    >>would become easy enough for Aunt Tilly to use within 6
    >>months. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe ESR's judgement
    >>is, just a little tad, distorted."

    ESR is part schoolgirl-in-love and part True Believer. In
    love with the hacker culture, he's mostly blind to its
    limitations and dysfunctionality. Not that he's
    unintelligent. But ESR chooses to use his intelligence to
    fantasize flowery camelot idealizations of that culture, and
    concoct elaborate rationalizations of its failings, than see
    it for what it is.

    You'll find few schoolgirls and ESRs running the world's
    most powerful corporations. Rather, you'll find them
    writing books, pleading with open letters, and fantasizing.
    I'd warn you against heading down the same path.

    >Your take on this reminds me of the take I used to see in
    >reference to linux in the server room. Yes, those time
    >frames are insane. Microsoft has a war chest that would
    >keep them going for 2 or 3 years if they lost all
    >revenues. But why do you thing they bought controling
    >interest in the NBC television network? Why do you think
    >they are trying to gain footholds in other non-computer
    >related(or at least hidden computer) technology and
    >information businesses? They are afraid that their computer
    >software business is going to go away.

    Microsoft has been extremely cautious for its entire
    existence. It has been trying to diversify for many years.
    In particular, its partnership with NBC dates from the mid
    1990's and has nothing to do with linux. Gates in
    particular is well known to be obsessed with circumventing
    any "paradigm shift" that would undermine his business.
    Microsoft's success getting its entire base of users and
    10's of thousands of apps moved intact from DOS to 32 bit
    Windows over the course of a decade is due, among other
    things, to this extreme caution.

    It may have taken you until 2004 to wake up to this fact,
    but I recall it already being a ho-hum topic in the computer
    press in the early 1990's.

    As far as recognizing a threat from linux, Microsoft already
    had a department devoted to studying this threat in the
    1990's, long before most of the rest of the world, including
    the Justice Department, took that threat seriously.

    Could linux some day knock out Microsoft's near monopoly on
    the desktop? Why not? Linux has poor technology and host
    of problems that would make it problematic for wide use by
    end users. But everything is possible. However, I think
    it'd be much easier to judge what's going to happen if linux
    closed some of its current huge technology lag. Remember,
    OS/2 Warp shipped in 1994, a full year before Windows 95,
    and was backed by IBM, but didn't displace Windows. You
    have to ask why linux would succeed today against Windows XP
    with inferior technology to what OS/2 had 10 years ago.

    >As far as linux being easy/hard for aunt Tilly, my
    >observation has been that if aunt Tilly learned to use
    >linux first, then she had a hard time with windows. If she
    >learned windows first, she had a hard time with
    >linux. Further, she will probably have a hard time with
    >windows XP if she learned windows 9x first.

    I suspect that your "observation" is nothing more than your
    imagination and bias. I started life on a TOPS-20 system,
    spent most the the 1980's using Unix and living in emacs,
    have worked under a variety of operating systems over the
    years since then, and have spent the past several years
    mostly using linux and FreeBSD at home and at work. I have
    very little experience with Win32 systems. Nevertheless, I
    generally find it easier to set up Windows 9x, 2000, and XP,
    for common tasks, install software, etc., than any unix
    variant. I would regard it as stupid and irresponsible to
    foist linux on Aunt Tilly because of your or my bias.

    I maintain my linux boxes with a combination of patience,
    technical expertise, lots of scripting, grappling with
    incomplete, poorly written, or non-existent documentation,
    lots of google and deja news searches, copious fiddling, and
    prayer. My experience is that linux is, on the whole, a
    fairly unreliable and problematic system with poor
    technology and performance.

    By contrast there are 3 Windows boxes in my home for my
    family's use. In my experience, Windows 2000 and XP crash
    more rarely (in fact, our Win 2000 and XP boxes have never
    really crashed to my knowledge, but XP has occasionally gone
    flakey) than my linux boxes freeze up, and my wife and young
    children, who have no computer expertise, need no help using
    them. I find the technology in Windows to be generally much
    superior to that in linux, and the software available for
    Windows to be much more varied and of much higher quality
    than that for linux.

    Thus, my observation is quite different from yours.

    >XP has taken too much from a unix minimalist approach to
    >desktop design for aunt tillie to figure it out easily,
    >unless she started with something unixish first.

    What you euphemistically call "a unix minimalist approach,"
    most of the world sees for what it is, which is
    technological impoverishment. Many insults have been
    leveled at XP, but associating it with unix's technological
    retardation is new to me.

    >On the flip side, I agree that there are some usability
    >issues that still need to be worked out in linux. But it
    >has made tremendous strides, and there are far fewer than
    >there were a year ago.

    In my opinion, "usability" is a bit misleading, because it
    gives the false impression that what is needed is to simply
    beautify and polish up the existing software base. In fact,
    there are all too many linux people wasting their time on
    the beautification, with endless web sites devoted to themes
    for emacs, gtk, gnome, xmms, dircolors, ... What linux
    primarily lacks is not this nonsense, but good old
    technology, intelligence, and programming talent. Windows
    users are spoiled with great deal of technology. You
    probably can't expect linux to break into that user base
    with its limited and inferior technology, even if it's free.

    I've used a number of operating systems over the years and
    I've never seen any system develop any where near as slowly
    and as haltingly as linux. The original development of
    gui's for Mac, Amiga, Windows, OS/2, Java, and other
    technologies was generally done in small teams producing
    good GUIs in relatively short time, typically a year or two.
    And that was producing original technology, rather than
    simply copying well established paradigms, as linux does.
    (In truth, the development of Windows 1.x, 2.x, 3.x was a
    bit Unix-like in its sluggishness, but the MS of today has a
    much better process.)

    And this sluggishness includes the boost that came from the
    dot com bubble, where tens of millions of dollars were
    dumped on projects like Nautilus (the worst file manager
    I've ever used). For whatever reason, linux seems to have a
    heck of a time attracting the kind of intelligence and
    programming talent needed to produce technology competitive
    with Microsoft. Frankly, if the venture capital of the late
    90's couldn't do it, I don't see where it's going to come
    from. Perhaps if linux catches on in China and India?
    Perhaps. Otherwise, from where?

    Just sticking to the user interface technologies, it's a
    pretty depressing situation. At base is X Window. Better
    windowing systems were already developed in the 1980's.
    Keith Packard (prominent for his work on extensions to X
    Window) related a remarkable historical anecdote explaining
    why X Window has no native bezier curve support (or much
    else, for that matter). Apparently, nobody on the original
    X Window team knew anything about bezier curves (!!!), so
    they left that to a future version which never materialized.
    Unfortunately, the kind of technical laxity, where people
    who don't know about bezier curves would dare to write a
    graphical interface system, is all too common and well
    tolerated in the unix world. Now, move up a level from X to
    Gtk, the most widely used gui library. The people from Gimp
    who started Gtk never expected it to become the standard for
    linux gui development, and they've admitted to not knowing
    much about writing a gui library. Unfortunately, it shows.
    Gtk has been under development for about a decade now. Wrap
    your head around that -- a DECADE. Still, it's extremely
    awkward, inconsistent, has embarrassing limitations, and it
    isn't even fully documented. Go up to the top level, Gnome.
    It's been, what, 7 years or so now? It was launched by de
    Icaza, who wrote a famous essay called "Unix Sucks," in
    which he lamented the lack in unix of things like
    Microsoft's component technology. Unfortunately, 7 years
    later de Icaza's goals are still far off, and Gnome and unix
    still suck. How many years does brainlessly copying
    Microsoft's gui take? OSS shows me it might take decades.

    >by the way, if Sun doesn't cooperate with doing an open
    >source java, there are acouple of cooperating projects that
    >are building an open source java environment, that may
    >eventually pass Sun up. In 6 months? NO. In 5 or 6 years?
    >maybe. depending on what Sun does, and how responsive they
    >are to their users. Maybe sooner if the nay-sayers prove
    >true and Sun goes out of business.

    Yes, there are a number of open source attempts around Java.
    Java hit the scene in 1995 and they've had about 9 years
    now. It's hard to say whether another 5 or 6 years would be
    enough for the open source community to catch up to where
    Sun is now. That would be great. One can only hope. Being
    only 5 or 10 years behind in technology is a reasonable
    expectation for open source software. I would give it maybe
    50/50 chances.

    On the other hand, what about actually pushing forward,
    going beyond the current state of Java? Frankly, I don't
    even want to see them try. Java certainly has its flaws,
    but nothing on the order of the muddle that comes from the
    open source world. Let them stick to things like Perl that
    are better suited to the open source style.

    Robert Morelli 02/29/04 08:17:20 PM EST

    # Layton commented on 27 February 2004:

    * *

    "As far as ESR's track record on economic predictions goes,
    need I comment? I can remember interviews he gave 3 or
    4 years ago in which he predicted the imminent collapse
    of Microsoft's monopoly, within 6 months or so. In one
    interview several years ago he also predicted that Linux
    would become easy enough for Aunt Tilly to use within 6
    months. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe ESR's judgement
    is, just a little tad, distorted."

    ESR is part schoolgirl-in-love and part True Believer. In love with
    the hacker culture, he's mostly blind to its limitations and dysfunctionality.
    Not that he's unintelligent. But ESR chooses to use his intelligence to
    fantasize flowery camelot idealizations of that culture, and concoct
    elaborate rationalizations of its failings, than see it for what it is.

    You'll find few schoolgirls and ESRs running the world's most powerful
    corporations. Rather, you'll find them writing books, pleading with
    open letters, and fantasizing. I'd warn you against heading down
    the same path.

    Your take on this reminds me of the take I used to see in reference to linux in the server room. Yes, those time
    frames are insane. Microsoft has a war chest that would keep them going for 2 or 3 years if they lost all
    revenues. But why do you thing they bought controling interest in the NBC television network? Why do you think
    they are trying to gain footholds in other non-computer related(or at least hidden computer) technology and
    information businesses? They are afraid that their computer software business is going to go away.

    Microsoft has been extremely cautious for its entire existence. It has been trying to diversify for many years.
    In particular, its partnership with NBC dates from the mid 1990's and has nothing to do with linux. Gates in
    particular is well known to be obsessed with circumventing any "paradigm shift" that would undermine his business.
    Microsoft's success getting its entire base of users and 10's of thousands of apps moved intact from DOS to 32
    bit Windows over the course of a decade is due, among other things, to this extreme caution.

    It may have taken you until 2004 to wake up to this fact, but I recall it already being a ho-hum topic in the
    computer press in the early 1990's.

    As far as recognizing a threat from linux, Microsoft already had a department devoted to studying this threat
    in the 1990's, long before most of the rest of the world, including the Justice Department, took that threat
    seriously.

    Could linux some day knock out Microsoft's near monopoly on the desktop? Why not? Linux has poor technology
    and host of problems that would make it problematic for wide use by end users. But everything is possible.
    However, I think it'd be much easier to judge what's going to happen if linux closed some of its current huge
    technology lag. Remember, OS/2 Warp shipped in 1994, a full year before Windows 95, and was backed by IBM,
    but didn't displace Windows. You have to ask why linux would succeed today against Windows XP with inferior
    technology to what OS/2 had 10 years ago.

    As far as linux being easy/hard for aunt Tilly, my observation has been that if aunt Tilly learned to use linux
    first, then she had a hard time with windows. If she learned windows first, she had a hard time with
    linux. Further, she will probably have a hard time with windows XP if she learned windows 9x first.

    I suspect that your "observation" is nothing more than your imagination and bias. I started life on a TOPS-20 system,
    spent most the the 1980's using Unix and living in emacs, have worked under a variety of operating systems over the
    years since then, and have spent the past several years mostly using linux and FreeBSD at home and at work. I have very
    little experience with Win32 systems. Nevertheless, I generally find it easier to set up Windows 9x, 2000, and XP, for
    common tasks, install software, etc., than any unix variant. I would regard it as stupid and irresponsible to foist
    linux on Aunt Tilly because of your or my bias.

    I maintain my linux boxes with a combination of patience, technical expertise, lots of scripting, grappling with
    incomplete, poorly written, or non-existent documentation, lots of google and deja news searches, copious fiddling,
    and prayer. My experience is that linux is, on the whole, a fairly unreliable and problematic system with poor
    technology and performance.

    By contrast there are 3 Windows boxes in my home for my family's use. In my experience, Windows 2000 and XP crash more
    rarely (in fact, our Win 2000 and XP boxes have never really crashed to my knowledge, but XP has occasionally gone
    flakey) than my linux boxes freeze up, and my wife and young children, who have no computer expertise, need no help
    using them. I find the technology in Windows to be generally much superior to that in linux, and the software available
    for Windows to be much more varied and of much higher quality than that for linux.

    Thus, my observation is quite different from yours.

    XP has taken too much from a unix minimalist approach to desktop design for aunt tillie to figure it out easily,
    unless she started with something unixish first.

    What you euphemistically call "a unix minimalist approach," most of the world sees for what it is, which is
    technological impoverishment. Many insults have been leveled at XP, but associating it with unix's technological
    retardation is new to me.

    On the flip side, I agree that there are some usability issues that still need to be worked out in linux. But it
    has made tremendous strides, and there are far fewer than there were a year ago.

    In my opinion, "usability" is a bit misleading, because it gives the false impression that what is needed is to
    simply beautify and polish up the existing software base. In fact, there are all too many linux people wasting
    their time on the beautification, with endless web sites devoted to themes for emacs, gtk, gnome, xmms, dircolors,
    ... What linux primarily lacks is not this nonsense, but good old technology, intelligence, and programming talent.
    Windows users are spoiled with great deal of technology. You probably can't expect linux to break into that user base
    with its limited and inferior technology, even if it's free.

    I've used a number of operating systems over the years and I've never seen any system develop any where near as slowly
    and as haltingly as linux. The original development of gui's for Mac, Amiga, Windows, OS/2, Java, and other
    technologies was generally done in small teams producing good GUIs in relatively short time, typically a year or two.
    And that was producing original technology, rather than simply copying well established paradigms, as linux does.
    (In truth, the development of Windows 1.x, 2.x, 3.x was a bit Unix-like in its sluggishness, but the MS of today
    has a much better process.)

    And this sluggishness includes the boost that came from the dot com bubble, where tens of millions of dollars were
    dumped on projects like Nautilus (the worst file manager I've ever used). For whatever reason, linux seems
    to have a heck of a time attracting the kind of intelligence and programming talent needed to produce technology
    competitive with Microsoft. Frankly, if the venture capital of the late 90's couldn't do it, I don't see where it's
    going to come from. Perhaps if linux catches on in China and India? Perhaps. Otherwise, from where?

    Just sticking to the user interface technologies, it's a pretty depressing situation. At base is X Window. Better
    windowing systems were already developed in the 1980's. Keith Packard (prominent for his work on extensions to X
    Window) related a remarkable historical anecdote explaining why X Window has no native bezier curve support (or much
    else, for that matter). Apparently, nobody on the original X Window team knew anything about bezier curves (!!!), so
    they left that to a future version which never materialized. Unfortunately, the kind of technical laxity, where people
    who don't know about bezier curves would dare to write a graphical interface system, is all too common and well
    tolerated in the unix world. Now, move up a level from X to Gtk, the most widely used gui library. The people from
    Gimp who started Gtk never expected it to become the standard for linux gui development, and they've admitted to not
    knowing much about writing a gui library. Unfortunately, it shows. Gtk has been under development for about a decade
    now. Wrap your head around that -- a DECADE. Still, it's extremely awkward, inconsistent, has embarrassing
    limitations, and it isn't even fully documented. Go up to the top level, Gnome. It's been, what, 7 years or so now?
    It was launched by de Icaza, who wrote a famous essay called "Unix Sucks," in which he lamented the lack in unix of
    things like Microsoft's component technology. Unfortunately, 7 years later de Icaza's goals are still far off, and
    Gnome and unix still suck. How many years does brainlessly copying Microsoft's gui take? OSS shows me it might take
    decades.

    by the way, if Sun doesn't cooperate with doing an open source java, there are acouple of cooperating projects
    that are building an open source java environment, that may eventually pass Sun up. In 6 months? NO. In 5 or 6
    years? maybe. depending on what Sun does, and how responsive they are to their users. Maybe sooner if the
    nay-sayers prove true and Sun goes out of business.

    Yes, there are a number of open source attempts around Java. Java hit the scene in 1995 and they've had about 9
    years now. It's hard to say whether another 5 or 6 years would be enough for the open source community to catch up
    to where Sun is now. That would be great. One can only hope. Being only 5 or 10 years behind in technology is
    a reasonable expectation for open source software. I would give it maybe 50/50 chances.

    On the other hand, what about actually pushing forward, going beyond the current state of Java? Frankly, I don't even
    want to see them try. Java certainly has its flaws, but nothing on the order of the muddle that comes from the open
    source world. Let them stick to things like Perl that are better suited to the open source style.

    bigsteve 02/28/04 03:01:30 PM EST
  • Open sourcing Java would not force Sun to accept additions to the standard codebase that would break compatibility. They get to choose what goes into Java software that they ship.
  • Open sourcing Java would probably reduce the tendency for incompatible open-source implementations. Since open-source implementors are not required to reimplement as much, there would be less opportunity for mistakes.
  • Open sourcing Java would encourage other vendors to open source their Java-based products. This exposure would in turn encourage them to smarten up their act. [Actually, Sun could even some up with a model that forced third-party vendors to open source any components that are critical to. For example, Sun could say that open sourcing is a prerequisite for a Sun endorsement of compatibility.]
  • Sun will still control the trademarks, and will still be able to say "you cannot call this XXX because it fails such-and-such compatibility test". [This assumes that they remove the barriers that make it hard for open source developers to access the compatibility tests.]
  • If Sun were to be a bit creative, they could do more to discourage incompatibility. For example, a Sun endorsed website for documenting known incompatibilities would be a great resource. It would also provide an incentive to developers to fix up their incompatible crap.
  • Layton 02/27/04 11:30:21 AM EST

    *

    "As far as ESR's track record on economic predictions goes,
    need I comment? I can remember interviews he gave 3 or
    4 years ago in which he predicted the imminent collapse
    of Microsoft's monopoly, within 6 months or so. In one
    interview several years ago he also predicted that Linux
    would become easy enough for Aunt Tilly to use within 6
    months. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe ESR's judgement
    is, just a little tad, distorted."

    Your take on this reminds me of the take I used to see in reference to linux in the server room. Yes, those time frames are insane. Microsoft has a war chest that would keep them going for 2 or 3 years if they lost all revenues. But why do you thing they bought controling interest in the NBC television network? Why do you think they are trying to gain footholds in other non-computer related(or at least hidden computer) technology and information businesses? They are afraid that their computer software business is going to go away.

    As far as linux being easy/hard for aunt Tilly, my observation has been that if aunt Tilly learned to use linux first, then she had a hard time with windows. If she learned windows first, she had a hard time with linux. Further, she will probably have a hard time with windows XP if she learned windows 9x first. XP has taken too much from a unix minimalist approach to desktop design for aunt tillie to figure it out easily, unless she started with something unixish first.

    On the flip side, I agree that there are some usability issues that still need to be worked out in linux. But it has made tremendous strides, and there are far fewer than there were a year ago.

    by the way, if Sun doesn't cooperate with doing an open source java, there are acouple of cooperating projects that are building an open source java environment, that may eventually pass Sun up. In 6 months? NO. In 5 or 6 years? maybe. depending on what Sun does, and how responsive they are to their users. Maybe sooner if the nay-sayers prove true and Sun goes out of business.

    Robert Morelli 02/21/04 10:11:22 AM EST

    The question of whether Sun should open source Java comes
    down to a question of quality and viability. Would
    it really improve the quality of Java? I doubt it very
    much.

    I've been using Linux as my primary OS for several years.
    I like open source on a philosophical level, and I like
    some social aspects of the distribution and development
    model. I've heard all the arguments about why OSS should
    be economically viable and technically superior, etc.
    However, my experience is otherwise. On a technical level,
    Linux (and OSS in general) is not impressive. Linux is the
    most problematic OS I've ever used. I've had huge problems
    with performance, reliability, documentation, feature
    impoverishment, etc.

    I've also programmed in both Java and with open source
    technologies like gcc, Gtk, ... . Technologically, my
    experience is that Java is overwhelmingly superior to
    open source technologies -- so much so that a comparison
    seems silly to me.

    As some others have pointed out, Java may be viewed as a
    specification which anyone is free to implement. If the
    open source model were so effective, we'd have decent
    open source implementations of Java by now. We don't.
    As someone who was once forced (as part of a research
    project) to use the open source JVM Kaffe, I can tell you
    there's a good reason the OSS people want to get their
    hands on Sun's source code, rather than go with their
    own efforts like Kaffe.

    In summary, Java is very high quality and basically
    irreplaceable. Linux and OSS are nice in principle,
    but in practice are low quality, replaceable, technologies.
    I'd be cautious about mixing Java with something that
    produces very different kinds of quality and results.

    As far as ESR's track record on economic predictions goes,
    need I comment? I can remember interviews he gave 3 or
    4 years ago in which he predicted the imminent collapse
    of Microsoft's monopoly, within 6 months or so. In one
    interview several years ago he also predicted that Linux
    would become easy enough for Aunt Tilly to use within 6
    months. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe ESR's judgement
    is, just a little tad, distorted.

    Kapil Khanna 02/18/04 08:39:36 PM EST

    The Java language is just a specification. The Java virtual machine is a commodity today. Anyone can build one. We have standardised on using Java/J2EE in our enterprise for development. We are running a non-sun JVM on Linux. I do not see how anyone is locked into Sun with Java. I can decide to use any J2EE complaint App server or any Java virtual. I have never seen such freedom with any other platform.
    By letting Java go open source, what are we really talking about here. The source for the Sun - JDK? Who cares!

    dhartford 02/18/04 10:15:46 AM EST

    Business:
    Have a central authority that has the resources to test, develop, defend, and maintain consistency is a big seller to the enterprise. As an example, Perl is a great and very powerful programming language, but for an enterprise to write and maintain applications in a more liberally licensed Perl? Sorry, but having an organization such as Sun overseeing the enterprise need helps keep Java in the enterprise, even if it means holding an intellectual fist (license) over the programming language.
    Licensing:
    I have not looked into the specifics, but if the only concern is if Sun will ''take away java'', maybe the best solution is to open up the important piece - the JVM. Blackdown is not technically ''open source'' because of the ties to Sun''s JVM licensing/core code. Fix that once piece, and anyone can freely use an open-source, certified JVM and a text editor, while the java core and consistency are maintained. They are now certifying open-source J2EE application servers, showing Sun''s commitment to open source. Next logical step to put some people''s fears to rest is to open up development of open-source JVM''s and to certify those open-source JVM''s.

    Eli Yishai 02/18/04 09:37:20 AM EST

    Although not open source, Java is openly specified soliciting input from individuals, commercial interests and open source organizations. However, after having seen how numerous corporations have attempted to hijack or co-opt it for the sake of their own agendas - and this extends beyond Microsoft - it is in Sun''s and Java''s interest not to have a repeat of the OMG specs (which were delayed by years because of internecine strife), and not to have Java splintered in the way Unix had been in the late 80''s/early 90''s.

    Although I am a fan of Linux, I am not so much a fan of it''s non-centralized direction. This has led in the past to what I consider arbitrary changes in the Linux platform, which, for example, has made it more difficult to interoperate with other Unix platforms. I would prefer for Java to have central direction much in the way JBoss has central direction - this is key to ensuring stability.

    Sun''s actual weakness as Java''s steward is not that it is uncommitted to open standards and software, but that software has never been Sun''s strength. Sun is still first and foremost a hardware vendor and this saps considerable strength from its otherwise talented pool of software professionals. Sun is willing to change it''s core focus, but it needs to find a steady stream of revenue before it can execute on that.

    Mr Evident 02/18/04 07:32:34 AM EST

    Someday everybody will wake up and realize that the king is parading without clothes!
    And that day the big Java hoopla will deflate and people (otherwise smart and talented) will say to themselves: why did I spend so much time in a platform that the only thing is has for it is "being cool"?

    Dennis 02/17/04 03:35:09 PM EST

    Arguably, it seems to be a problem to choose between ubiquity and control. On the other hand, Sun has continued to push the language to a controlled force that drives a lot of businesses and is regarded as a future language. It is possible to view all sources and participate in even hacking the JVM itself, something I would not even dare to think about... Open Source is a great way of accomplishing work and developing software, but there is also a great risk: unless a piece of software is really a nutcracker everyone wishes to use and work with, it moves into too many different directions, thus leading to a disortion of the original intention. I like to think about it as a larger oligopol many can participate, but few take control - basically the same the apache foundation is doing. In keeping tight control over who commits what and the direction a software is moving is a way of keeping it at its bests. Thus, I think Sun is doing the right thing, although there might be some flaws in how they are doing it, and how fast the overall process is.

    Greetings,

    Dennis

    mepp 02/17/04 01:54:19 PM EST

    The otherwise articulate and seemingly knowledgeable Eric Raymond says: "Open source is hardly a zero-revenue model; ask Red Hat, which had a share price over triple Sun''s when I just checked."

    This is a gaffe of such monumental distortion that it makes me wonder what other pretty simple facts of life he chooses to ignore.

    Techies should refrain from using information to support their view from areas they do not understand. Share price is irrelevant. Market cap is a better measure.

    Market Cap of Red Hat: $3.26B
    Market Cap of Sun Microsystems: $18.9B

    Better still measure of the "size" or "worth" of a company is revenue:

    Sun: Ranging from $11 BILLION to $18B annually over past 3 years.

    Redhat: Ranging from $80 MILLION to $100M annually over same period.

    About 1% of Sun''s.

    anonymous 02/17/04 12:19:27 PM EST

    I wish that ESR would shut up.

    He uses his high concept, impractical business models to promote himself and his own private agenda, rather than proving that they work by putting his own money and effort into companies that implement them.

    ESR reminds me of a union leader that roams around construction sites, complaining and protesting about discrimination and union rule non-compliance, UNTIL the construction manager hands over a bribe to take his trouble somewhere else.

    I don''t think that ESR is taking monetary bribes but I do think that he kicks up a stink to promote himself and get his name in the magazines. Most of the time, ESR can convince himself that he is a great prophet but, occasionally and privately, I think that he has moments when he realizes that he is just a huckster and a shill. His main product is ERIC S. RAYMOND IN CAPITAL LETTERS and open source in lower-case.

    Juan 02/17/04 12:06:25 PM EST

    I lead projects for my company and I push very hard on Java even though we are Microsoft slaves. One of my arguments (among others) to get Java (over .net) projects approved is "you have serious companies like Sun and IBM behind Java". That helps a lot. I do agree from the technology point of view, that opening Java would benefit Java itself a lot, but if that is going to happen, it should be done in a way for which the API, additions and new features are driven like they are right now. One thing that makes Java very reliable is the responsibility in which the inclusion of new APIs, features and changes are done. Very few languages (any other?) have such stable, logical, organized and well-thought APIs. Once you learn Java, you don''t have to re-learn it when a new release comes out (as it happens with M$ languages). I personally think that Sun''s control has helped a lot to keep things that way. If Java is opened, it should be managed the same way so it will keep its reliability.

    Serge Bureau 02/17/04 12:03:25 PM EST

    Java is fine as it is, look at 1.5 !!! Tell me an openSource project progressing this fast !

    Leave it alone.

    Chris Duesing 02/17/04 10:18:49 AM EST

    I would like to point out that all of the serious arguments for open sourcing Java are along the lines of philosophy or "the hackers want to fiddle with the bits". That is fine, I do not have any real problem with either of those things. However, Java would not be relevant if it lost its ubiquitous nature. You may scoff at the write once, run anywhere slogan, but it is a truly unique and powerful position (for the language, not SUN). This is a direct result of having one entity retain control. Were it open sourced there would be MS Java, GNU Java, Mac Java etc etc. What would the draw to use the language be? Today Javas position comes from its singular nature. I do not have to learn which parts of the language work on which platforms. This would be especially problematic for corporations. At work I write Java code on an NT workstation. I deploy my applications to Win XP, Win 2000, OS/2 (yea thats right) and AIX. I have never had to rewrite a single line of code to do this. It is regularly pointed out that Sun makes no money on Java, yet they have continued to fight to get the language where it is today, as one of the most popular and widespread languages around. They have opened the language to input from outsiders through the JCP. If you want a new feature in the language you can write a JSR and try to get it added. If it is in the best interest of the community overall it will be. This may not be the fastest process in the world, but it is evidence that Sun is not trying to keep you out, they are trying to keep the vision of the language cohesive.

    So tell me your business case, not your philosophy. Dont point out that companies are making money on open source, I can point to Microsoft making money on closed. Tell me how it would help the enterprise users if Java were open sourced. Tell me how it would help the developers (not just the hackers). I am an open source advocate, I contribute to open source projects, but open source is not my philosophy. Open source is an amazing tool of cooperation, but I do not think it is the answer to every problem. In this case I think Java is doing amazingly well in Suns hands, and I have yet to see a rational argument for why things should be any different.

    Chris Duesing

    Andrew 02/17/04 10:01:49 AM EST

    "Sun''s insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Sun''s long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community, ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl"

    The acceptance of java by the open source community has been
    throttled? ESR needs to take a look at all the java projects on sourceforge.

    "if you''re serious about preparing Sun for the future we can all see coming in which code secrecy and proprietary lock-in will no longer be viable strategies"

    Code secrecy???! I can go download the code for java right now. What secrecy?

    Java Programmer 02/17/04 08:36:50 AM EST

    There is no less controled thing. There is controlled and uncontrolled. Sun is equal to Microsoft but they try to use their marketing to look like the good guys. They should really Open Source Java or close it. People are already starting to use GCJ with SWT for UI programs. Even some server-side applications are being compiled natively using GCJ. It´s the way that the open-source community is trying to use Java freely. So if a situation like this keep evolving many programmers are simply going to stop using Java Virtual Machines and programming natively like it has always been done. The thing that still remains is the Java API. There is already a lot of redundant code being developed. Compare many Jakarta projects with the Java API. For instance the Java Log API and Log4J. To end this post I would like to say that there is no absolute control. People are free in their minds so the uncontrolled way is always going to find it´s way. Who is loosing in the end for being under control is Java. So for you Sun: Free Java! Let it Go!

    Jim Willeke 02/17/04 06:02:21 AM EST

    At issue is that much of the work surrounding Java has been done by others and due credit is/has not been provided.

    Further, if you have not looked at .NET and seen the STEMA roller comming, something must be done to even keep Java alive and it appears that SUN may not be willing or able to keep the enough momentum to even slow the steam roller.
    BTW, you looked at MONO latley ?

    LET JAVA GO.
    IBM, Novell, BEA and many others whom already provide a lot of input and additions to Java would I am sure be more willing if SUN did not get the credit.

    Java Freak 02/17/04 03:45:27 AM EST

    It''s interesting that no-one seems to be willing to address Sun's argument for clinging to the Java spec. Whatever is opened will be subverted by You-Know-Who.

    Certainly the current model is problematic, as companies such as BEA take the lead in J2EE, while Sun retains control. I would love to see an open source, community-driven model, but this only works well in the absence of Microsoft. Microsoft is not participating in the Linux, Apache, OpenOffice, Perl, etc... development - which is why it works. Can you guys imagine what would happen if they were? Opening Java would do just hat. Java would become just-another-programming-language with distinct, incompatible versions on Windows and other systems. The Windows version would be the most widespread one. There are so many such languages, that Java would become completely irrelevant. We need a language that works on all platforms - remember? This is what hurts Microsoft and what Sun is trying to achieve.

    In this particular case, without wishing to, the open source community is providing a great service to Microsoft by resisting Java. I would like to see the community come up with a model that addresses this issue instead of just enjoying Sun-bashing, although the bashing is very enjoyable and does not cost anything. We need to work with Sun and take over the agenda through community pressure and not just abstain. This is not easy, but there are a lot of really bright people in the open source community - let''s find a way.

    As to comparing Perl and other scripting languages with J2EE ... it is so funny that one does not know where to start explaining. It''s like comparing the Space Shuttle with a Rolls Royce.

    Caffeinated Drinker 02/17/04 03:18:34 AM EST

    I don''t see why all of you are pushing so hard to make Java open source. To be honest, what really needs to be done now is to make a concerted effort to get the members of the JCP much more united than ever before.

    This means if anything to push Sun to make it more closed than ever before. With the consolidation of the app server vendors within the past few years and the confusion of who will be the dominant player in the coming year or two, someone needs to put a flag in the sand and make some hard decisions and make some solid code decisions until Java becomes a serious player in the enterprise space again.

    Right now Microsloth, excuse me, Microsoft seems to have a very large dominant space in the small to medium, and even the large company IT space and Java has lost a lot of pull. As someone who used to work in Marketing at one of the large J2EE software companies, I have watched their lead go from #1 drop really fast. They keep drinking the kool-aid but I know that they are dying really fast.

    With web services and the newer technologies out there, this is the only way they can truly survive.

    dr lou 02/17/04 01:05:26 AM EST

    Yes, as a long time software developer, I felt the pain of the wishing game. Oh it would have been so great to imagine a system that would be so open that you could write code once and have it run anywhere. I worked for IBM for 19 years, and us folks who worked the trenches for years of systems development, prayed for openness.
    We heard of "CASE". In case you didn''t know what you were doing.
    We pushed each language to the brink, and they all fell short of C, but in C you could get your A in a jam, so fast, the cost of meal was worse than the expense of starving to death.
    That said. Your article is off base at best. One you assume that anyone in power, you know, the guys with the real money ever want the status quo to change.
    It is left to the insignificant, and so it shall remain, unless we the peasant, changes.
    Accept responsibility, that''s the first step.
    I'll add the rest later,
    Dr Lou
    www.drloumusic.com

    Steve 02/16/04 07:25:26 PM EST

    Mr. Raymond would do better if he learned the lessons of the .com era, that is, share price does not equal revenue. Red Hat may have a triple share price (which still adds up to less then 1/5th of SUNs market value by the way), but how much money are they making? hmmm, P/E of 372??? That''s the model company??? LMAO

    JavaDude 02/16/04 04:08:02 PM EST

    ESR, moron, don't get greedy. Java is less controlled than it has ever been and you still moan. Why dont ya go and complain to Microsoft and ask for C# instead? Idiot.

    perlcoder 02/16/04 06:34:31 AM EST

    "ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl."

    You are correct. Perl and Python will still be very much alive long after the overcomercialized overhyped underperforming Java dies the death of a thousand cuts that its been suffering.

    As for the future, once Parrot is done all your script compilers are belonging to us. :-)

    Charles Miller 02/15/04 05:02:35 PM EST

    To crosspost my comment from the Slashdot: If Java is having so much trouble getting support from Open Source, why is there SO DAMN MUCH open-sourced java stuff out there? Between Apache, JBoss, OpenSymphony and hundreds of independant projects, Java is drowning in open source development even without the platform itself being open.

    The situation is analogous to Open source development existing (and thriving) on Unix long before Linux came along. Maybe one day there will be an open Java implementation that competes with Sun's, but until then, the community is still quite healthy, thankyouverymuch.

    ESR, once more, is publicity-whoring on a subject he either knows nothing about, or chooses to be deliberately ignorant of. Any brief perusal of the Java scene will uncover an enormous amount of Open Source work going on, some of it very high quality. (And much less so, of course, but that's the same all over).

    What ESR really means is that there's a lack of adoption of Java from Unix/C programmers. This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Java is Open Source or not, and everything to do with the perception amongst such programmers (whether deserved or not), of the Java language itself. People don't choose Perl, Python or Ruby over Java because the former are open source. People choose them because they prefer using the scripting languages.

    I have this feeling that Scott McNealy isn't sitting there thinking "Damn, I guess if we totally cede control over this language, all those Unix nerds who hate Java anyway are going to drop their copies of Python and come rushing to embrace us!"

    jaguar 02/15/04 10:37:11 AM EST

    Sun needs to capitalise on Java they so far failed to do commercially. Now with the Java Enterprise and Desktop stacks, which have now caught up with competition - and in some cases are superior to the rival offerings - Sun is on the right track.

    Java is a brilliant language and like C before it, it will remain the default for development for decades to come.

    So cut Sun some slack; they have done for Open Source more than any large firm has, ever

    nlo 02/15/04 08:29:27 AM EST

    Open source will mark the end of the word "lucrative" in the US computer programming profession. Advocates clamor for all software to be open source not realizing that keeping source codes for internal use is a business advantage. They argue that open source is better not taking into consideration that major advancements in the computer industry were made by companies who made a lot of big bucks and in turn funneled a lot of the funds for serious R&D. Open source is adding to the woes caused by competition from offshore programmers. I'm just glad I don't earn a living programming.

    Tyler Jensen 02/15/04 12:29:40 AM EST

    McNealy has utterly failed to respond to Microsoft's brilliant strategy of making the C# and CLR specifications public standards with the ECMA and ISO organizations. Competitors like the Ximian and their Mono project can now freely create their own CLR and a C# compiler. I believe history will show that this was the beginning of the end for Java and Sun. Look for Bill to checkmate Scott in six moves or less.

    David Finch 02/14/04 11:31:36 PM EST

    One problem with asking a company to open source one of their products is that there has to be a financial incentive. If they lose control of Java, they may lose that financial incentive, regardless of the increase in popularity. Free access to source code helps to greatly improve the quality of software, but free commercial use without giving anything back does little for the original author except to advertise their skills.

    As for the giving the JRE away for free as in beer part, they seem to do it to advertise their technology and claim that their own OS and hardware will run Java better. So there is a commercial incentive in that, but open sourcing Java may kill that incentive.

    qtp 02/14/04 05:58:12 PM EST

    If Java were open sourced, Sun would still be able to retain the copyright and sell their "Java Enterprise System" as a product. Java development would gain the benefit of more coders working on the project, Sun would likely retain the "upstream developer" mantle to direct the project, and they would not be losing any revenue stream as they already make the SDK and JRE available for free (as in beer).

    EmilEifrem 02/14/04 04:41:30 PM EST

    I do not understand is how Sun could have let the Gnome opportunity slip!

    Sun announced several years ago that they would be standardizing on Gnome for their enterprise desktops. They have made significant contributions since then (let's not be fooled: none of these recent public sector / governmental success stories would have been possible without Sun's accessibility work). When they decided to go with Gnome, they already had a production JVM for Linux that equalled the Windows and Solaris (in that order) virtual machines in performance and stability.

    When they went with Gnome, Microsoft had long been banging the .NET / C# drum and Miguel had allocated his devoted team of Mono hackers at Ximian with the explicit intent of bringing a modern programming language, C#, to Linux and integrate it tightly with Gnome.

    And Sun does nothing! This is an impossible equation to me:

    * Sun hates Microsoft above all.
    * The biggest threat from Microsoft is .NET and C#. [1]
    * Therefore, Sun hates .NET and C# above all.
    * Sun wants to push Gnome as the desktop platform of the future.
    * There's a big movement within Gnome to make .NET and C# the ubiquitos programming environment in Gnome.
    * Therefore, Sun will push a desktop platform which at its core[2] will have Mono and C#.

    [1] Because it invades Sun's most priced asset: the Java and J2EE mindshare.

    [2] Maybe not technically, at least not yet, but well in developer mindshare.

    I don't understand how Sun can let this happen. That's where Java should be! Everything is prepared: all underlying frameworks are in place (industrial-strength JVM on Linux, the new GTK Swing LF, some native Gnome/GTK-Java integration already works [sourceforge.net], JVM sharing in the pipeline), it's a great way to bring Java to the desktop masses (without having to go through a hostile monopoly) and if Sun doesn't do it, very soon every one will be using their shiny "Java Desktop Systems" to build GTK# applications in .NET on top of Mono.

    So I say to Sun:

    * Let Java free! You will never get full community and Gnome acceptance until you do.

    * Allocate tons of resources to integrating Java with Gnome! And we want real bindings, a buggy Swing Look and Feel is not enough! When a developer sits down to build a Gnome app, they should want to use Java because it's so easy and powerful and well integrated.

    * Let people use gcj, GCC's Java-to-native compiler, to produce native binaries from their Java Gnome apps, they're already building for one desktop so screw Write-Once-Run-Anywhere!

    * Make your client JVM so good that there's no need to. You're almost there already, most Java apps are today equal to or faster than their C/C++ counterparts on the server side. If Swing hadn't been such a hog and you could tweak that JVM startup time some more, no one would notice the difference on the client-side either.

    This may slow down Microsoft's emerging dominance on the free desktop and make that "Java Desktop" brand of yours more than just a PR move.

    -EE

    2YTHres 02/14/04 03:45:29 PM EST

    "Most of Sun's techies are running Linux on their PCs at home. They can see the handwriting on the wall." How do we know? Why because ESR told us so, that's how.

    deanj 02/14/04 03:38:45 PM EST

    J2EE is doing great. Jini has a strong community behind it, and companies are using it.

    Anyone can implement their own version of Java. The spec is right out there. I encourage ESR to put his money where is mouth is, and do his own implementation if he's that concerned about it.

    Arslan ibn Da'ud 02/14/04 03:33:10 PM EST

    I always thought Sun's tight control over Java was so that they could keep Microsoft from polluting it, using their usual 'embace, extend, extinguish' method.

    After all, Sun did force MS to change their product name from Java to J++, since it did not follow the spec.

    Even if such a tragedy would not recur, can you blame Sun for being paranoid?

    Jacek Piskozub 02/14/04 03:26:33 PM EST

    > Actually Mr Raymond, by market cap Red Hat is worth around $3.2 billion, and Sun about $18 billion.

    ESR meant actually the Price/Book_value index (9.02 for RHAT and 3.04 fore SUNW)

    ashishK 02/14/04 03:02:39 PM EST

    Actually Mr Raymond, by market cap Red Hat is worth around $3.2 billion, and Sun about $18 billion.

    Orangecrate 02/14/04 02:55:33 PM EST

    Setting Java Free was actually Gosling's idea first, but the idea is correct. It should be free as in open source.

    Maybe the critical path to being able to think simply involves being able to listen to ideas regardless of your personal feelings toward the messenger? Give the ideas some thought - it makes sense.

    0x0d0a 02/14/04 02:54:02 PM EST

    For someone who is concerned about the business credibility of open source, ESR sure as hell isn't holding up his end of things.

    He compares, in an incredibly simplified manner, three projects that Sun has done (throwing out all but one factor -- whether they were open source), and then claims that Sun should free Java. That's absurd. Sun execs will have gone over this in far more detail many times before, and the only thing this does is ensure that ESR emails go in the wastebasket. The fact that this letter is open makes it doubly embarassing

    eberlin 02/14/04 02:51:31 PM EST

    At least SUN still actively supports OO.org. I guess we're asking them to take the big plunge instead of just testing the waters.

    Roman Mir 02/14/04 02:37:25 PM EST

    I would like to see GNU/Linux to become a more powerful platform and by a more powerful platform I mean a platform that provides the user with a pleasant experience. Now, to provide a pleasant experience a platform must give the user a choice - a choice of applications that exist for the platform is a step in the right direction. However, GNU/Linux is not such a platform yet. If it were, it would have been embraced by the masses already and it is not. There are a few things that GNU/Linux system is lacking and one of the more important lacking components is a convenient tool that allows a novice create his/her own software for the platform, software that easily manipulates data imported from multiple sources and allows to create graphical interfaces to that data. In the Microsoft this functionality is provided by such a ubiquitous tool as Visual Basic. In the Free Software world there are many tools that are extremely powerful but none of them have the same kind of momentum that Visual Basic delivers on Microsoft platform. VB is taught at schools, it is the language of macros under MS platform.

    To answer the question- "What can be the VB for Free Software?" we need to look at the kind of problems that will have to be solved by this tool. The problems solved by VB are of many kinds, but for the general public VB provides the bridge that closes the gap between a user and a multitude of small problems that the user wants to solve. Of-course it is possible to just create a VB IDE for FS platforms but I believe there is a more interesting solution to this problem and it is Java. Just like VB, Java runs in a virtual machine, so the user will never really have direct access to any hardware resources, but an abstract layer of JVM can provide a nice buffer between the user and the hardware and at the same time Java will always behave in the same way on multiple other platforms, including Windows. Java is an OO language but at the same time it is very easy to write functions in Java (static everything). Java has thousands of convenience libraries, there is enough Free Software written for Java that can be integrated into an IDE. However there is a big problem with the language itself - it is not Free.

    Sun allows anyone to use Java for free but nobody can modify the language itself except for Sun. In order for Java to become for Free Software and Gnu/Linux what VB became for Microsoft, Java has to be Freed and put out under the GPL. There is also probably a good business sense in it for the Sun Microsystems as well - their language suddenly becomes the language of choice for millions and thousands will work on improving the language, the virtual machine, the compiler etc. In this case Sun will stay in a position that Linus finds himself in - they become the gate-keepers for the vanilla Java tree, but Java will branch and will become much more spread than it is right now. Sun can capitalize on that by providing more Java based solutions and services.

    Now it is likely that Sun management will not agree to the change of their Java's status, however, if there was an immediately profitable reason for them to do this, they just may turn around and start thinking about it. A reason that is profitable could be a large sum of cash available to them upon releasing Java under the GPL. Where could this money come from? These money could be collected by the FS and OS supporters, the developers and the users who would like to see more momentum in the GNU/Linux movement towards a successful (wide spread) desktop solution. I suppose no one will seriously object to have one more powerful tool in their Free Software tool-bag. Java can be this tool and it can be just the thing needed to tip the scales over towards quick appearance of a useful and a popular GNU/Linux desktop.

    * I use Free to mean Free Software (Libre) and I use free to mean free of charge.

    tanveer 1969 02/14/04 02:36:01 PM EST

    Setting Java free would make Java a little better or maybe a lot better, only time will tell. But can Sun afford to do it?

    irt67s 02/14/04 02:34:56 PM EST

    Java is Sun's big remaining product, so they need to keep it theirs.

    Read the Open Letter here 02/14/04 02:33:55 PM EST

    Read the Open Letter here.

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