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"Letting Java Go" - James Gosling in 2003 on Open-Sourcing Java

"If we really let it go, what would happen?" asked James Gosling, at last year's JavaOne.

  • Read Eric S. Raymond's open letter to Scott McNealy, "Let Java Go"

    When asked by a Computerworld reporter back in June 2003 what the latest thinking was at Sun on making Java open-source, Gosling replied:

    "I am certainly one of the people who would love to make it open-source. But it's hard for two reasons. One is that open-source ways of dealing with software work really well so long as you get this sort of collegial atmosphere. If you happen to have a bully on the block who is really strong, it really doesn't work. We have this history of having been victimized, and there are lots of people who are nervous about that."

    "The other issue," Gosling continued, "is that when you've got a platform technology like Java, there are really two sides to the community. There are the people who are building the platform, and the people who are using the platform."

    "From the point of view of the people who are using the platform, one of the most valuable things about Java is the consistency, the interoperability. And from the platform providers' side of the world, they feel it's this sort of tension. On the one hand, they just want to go off and do whatever they damn well please. On the other hand, they know that if they did that, they'd be cutting themselves off from some developers."

    "Being involved with interoperability is something that most manufacturers have this love-hate thing with," Gosling added. "So we've tended to have our licenses be as close to open-source as we can be, while maintaining the one thing that we really care about, which is interoperability."

    Given those arguments he'd adduced himself, he was then asked: do you still favor open-source for Java?

    "I believe all of those arguments are actually correct," he replied. "The question for me is, have we gotten to a point where market pressures will enforce the values of the developer community? Are we someplace where there's no one player who could just take over and be the bully on the block? And I think we're basically there. But different people have different opinions on that."

    Could Java go open-source soon, he was asked. (Remember, this was June 2003.) "It could conceivably happen soon," sais Gosling, "although Sun is kind of a funny company. I don't really know what the right word is. We aren't like a dictatorship. We don't have somebody in the center that's the ultimate control. We aren't like a really hierarchical company. We're a consensus company, which in some ways is lovely and in some ways is completely maddening."

    Gosling concluded: "And this has been a point on which I think everybody agrees on the basic arguments about why we need to protect [Java], and I buy those arguments. The question is then, How do you enforce that? And right now, the argument is mostly, Are we there yet? If we really let it go, what would happen? And there are enough people that are pretty nervous. Right now, that's kind of where the consensus is, but it's slowly been inching away."

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    Most Recent Comments
    Paul Hobbs 03/01/04 04:15:35 AM EST

    The SUN brand gives the product credability, besides we have more than enough open-source development kits.

    carld 02/20/04 08:28:27 AM EST

    What are the fears or main reason to Open Source?
    Is it for market position?
    Is it for many minds focusing on new ideas?
    Is it forking the language?
    Is it because everyone wants to bite the hand that feed em?
    Is it branding?

    I think we should leave it be for now.
    And have a better voting methodology for bug parade and JCP.
    Preserve a good thing... (WORA)
    Why was this a good thing 3-4 years ago, and now it doesn''t really make a whole lot difference. When you open source it, it is really for the API developers. Those are the folks who are want permission to mess with the underlying implementation (JNI,C,C++). I believe that many Users of the API want to jump on the band wagon, and may not realize what is good for the platform. When you fork the JVM it would be called XVM or XYZVM?

    Just becareful what you wish for...

    -Carl

    -Carl

    Ray 02/17/04 04:47:00 PM EST

    My company has concentrated exclusively on Java development since 1998. I know what''s good about it and I know its weak points, probably as well as Sun''s internal Java team does. Open source would kill it, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just too short-sighted to be making such a significant decision. I''d give Sun a billion dollars for Java before I''d let them open source it.

    Scott Sauyet 02/17/04 08:12:50 AM EST

    > The advantage of this would be that it would allow other
    > groups to do a fork if they wanted to, without losing the
    > official Sun brand of Java...

    However, I think a fork is exactly what Gosling is saying Sun fears. Right or wrong, this is an understandable concern. Java has managed to make it as far as it has in part because the community has never been able to become fractured.

    I think that Eric Raymond is right, and the time is right to release Java, but I certainly understand the concerns.

    David Fraser 02/17/04 02:14:35 AM EST

    The trouble with this argument is that it assumes "open-source" and "community-driven management" are the same thing. It would still be possible to move to an open source license, but keep the management structure controlled by Sun. The advantage of this would be that it would allow other groups to do a fork if they wanted to, without losing the official Sun brand of Java...

    jay 02/15/04 11:36:14 AM EST

    Yeah right: and Sun was going to do it in 1998 too, if one believed the Wired report of the time ("Open-Source Java at Last?" by Niall McKay.)

    ashishK 02/15/04 11:32:19 AM EST

    "Sun should go for broke on open-source Java and scare Microsoft away in the bargain." So said Nicholas Petreley, founding editor of LinuxWorld