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Sun Will Open-Source Java "Today, Tomorrow or Two Years Down the Road"

Sun Will Open-Source Java "Today, Tomorrow or Two Years Down the Road"

  • Breaking News - Sun: "Make No Mistake, We Will Open Source Solaris"
  • "Let Java Go" - ESR Writes an Open Letter to Scott McNealy
  • "Letting Java Go" - James Gosling in 2003 on Open-Sourcing Java
  • "Let's Collaborate on Open-Sourcing Java": IBM Writes Open Letter to Sun
  • Sun's Schwartz: IBM's Request "Seems a Little Bonky"

    No sooner did Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's dynamic president and COO, announce earlier this week the imminent open-sourcing of Solaris - from Shanghai, where Sun was unleashing its next wave of product and pricing innovation at its first-ever Asia-based SunNetwork conference - than another indication has been given of an intent to open up a Sun technology.

    Java, says the well-respected Java evangelist Raghavan 'Rags' Srinivas, will inevitably follow.

    The discussion has been running for several months, indeed years. 

    In February of this year, responding to Scott McNealy's remarks at Sun's February 2004 analyst meeting, Eric S. Raymond - President of the Open Source Initiative - wrote an Open Letter to McNealy. The letter ended:

    "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."

    But long before that, in June 2003, James Gosling - a co-inventor of Java, now CTO of Sun's Developer Platforms Group - expressed hesitancy:

    "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."
    And in February 2004 when IBM wrote an Open Letter to Sun inviting them to collaborate on an IBM-Sun open-source implementation of Java, Jonathan Schwartz - then still EVP of Sun's Softare Group - commented:

    "We looked at the request, and our first question was, 'That seems a little bonky. Could you explain what it means?'"
    So the news from 'Rags' Srinivas that it will happen is certain to cause a new surge of interest in Sun and in Java among software developers worldwide, even though he didn't specify when - replying to that question, in an interview yesterday, "at some point it will happen...it might be today, tomorrow or two years down the road."
  • More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    jimcap 06/09/04 03:08:09 AM EDT

    Every one who has ever done some serious Java work will (or should) agree with most of the remarks made sofar. Sad but true. Yet, Java is still growing becoming better with every release, it''s future looks better than ever.
    Is that a paradox?

    JavaRocks 06/04/04 07:00:04 AM EDT

    It makes perfect sense if Sun is doing this for the same reason Apple open sources the internals of Mac OS X.

    Allowing their users access to the source to Solaris-- even if the license is "poisoned" to prevent it from being mixed with GPLed code-- would help Sun''s users. They would be able to adapt the OS to strange fine-tuned uses and arcane hardware, or more easily debug kernel plugins. A shop that might otherwise have gone "well, we like solaris, but we don''t want to be limited to sparc and x86, so we''ll go with linux" might be dissuaded.

    Allowing their users access to the source to the JVM-- even under a GPL-incompatible license-- would do the same. It would allow Sun''s users to port the JVM to those few platforms Sun doesn''t support yet, or more easily debug JNI software.

    This is definitely a benefit for Sun''s users. It makes both Java and Solaris more attractive. It makes a lot of sense.

    ryen 06/04/04 06:56:19 AM EDT

    Are there any "success stories" of proprietary software going open source? i guess the definition of "success story" is subject to opinion:

    Success for the releaser? (Sun)

    Success for the community?

    atehrani 06/04/04 06:54:32 AM EDT

    I think Java is fine the way it is. Open Sourcing it will not bring any improvements and actually might hurt Java. Name one advantage for Java going open source?

    minkwe 06/04/04 06:52:47 AM EDT

    CORRECTION: Sun will "hybrid-source" Java. This is hybrid-source not open-source. Please use the right term for the right software.

    eeg3 06/04/04 06:50:36 AM EDT

    Of course the opening of Java's source will be neat for "the community," but it doesn't seem like a very smart business move for Sun. There might be some temporary benefits in publicity, but no real benefits in the long run. Atleast if they keep it closed, they'll retain some control, and have the ability to possibly make money off of it.

    However, i'm sure they know this, and that's why it's not being released now, and it probably never will be, unless they somehow conjure up a way to release the source and retain complete control of it.

    ...Which seems impossible to me.

    javacowboy 06/04/04 06:43:31 AM EDT

    Call me paranoid or even a conspiracy theorist, but what if Microsoft is behind this? What if Microsoft, as part of their settlement with Sun, asked them to open-source Java so that they could embrace and extend it, and pollute it as they tried to before?

    How much do you want to bet that Java will be open sourced under a BSD-style license, and not the GPL.

    mrfibbi 06/04/04 06:42:37 AM EDT

    I think that people who worry themselves over the ominous and supposedly inevitable "fragmentation" really need to take a second look at things.

    1-There are numerous examples of open source programming languages that have remained centralized and unfragmented, like Perl and Python.

    2-Because java depends on a uniform standard and VM, any attempts to split off or fork the source tree will die miserably due to a lack of compatibility with the massive pool of existing code and classes.

    3-In fact, there is actually LESS chance of fragmentation when Java lies in the hands of the public, first because it means that no one will start up a competing "openjava", a venture that would almost certainly lead to incompatibilities, and second because, as the example of the death of xfree86 shows, too much central and absolute control over software by a small group will inevitably anger developers and users alike, leading them to search for an alternative.

    kjj 06/04/04 06:41:51 AM EDT

    The most annoying part of Java on Freebsd is that you are required to build the thing yourself due to all the restrictions. This wouldn't be such a problem but the Java libary gets larger all the time and gets to be a bigger chore just to install it. As I understand it this is due to licensing that only allows the Java on Freebsd developers to release patches with must be applied to the base source downloaded from Sun. If Java used a true open source license then this would no longer be a problem, because there would be no restrictions on redistribution of either modified source or binaries built from the modified version.

    Tarantolato 06/04/04 06:40:31 AM EDT

    Sun has this spooky, almost pathological, fear of forking. I guess you can attribute it to fallout from the proprietary Unix wars of the 80s and 90s. Thing is, those were a direct consequence of proprietary licensing. Everyone took the "historical Unix" code, put it in their own systems, and then chugged along incompatibly, with the new code hidden. The difference with GPL'd code is that if you use it, you have to publish it. So your rivals can copy or emulate incompatible features easily.

    GPL projects can fork, but the forks can dovetail back into one another. Proprietary projects that fork stay forked.

    Vengeful weenie 06/04/04 06:38:17 AM EDT

    Why is it that so many people feel the need to jump on Sun & Java? There are pleny of companies that have given less to their respecive industries.

    Yes, so Sun has decided to OS Java, a step that they said they wanted to do a while ago, but didn't want to see the language pulled apart while it was immature. Well, if they feel it's time then great. They did start it up, and pay for a ton of development, and do a lot of promotion. Did they benefit? You bet. They are a company, and after all hopeful dreams alone never get you anywhere. BSD, RPC, NFS, Java -- I can't wait to see what they come up with next. The're not the only ones with great solutions, but they have a good track record. Kudos.

    PointofInformation 06/04/04 06:37:27 AM EDT

    If you develop in java, you don't have to pay sun any money. Sun uses what they call a "protected source" license, which basically says, "Anyone can use this, but only we can make changes, or release new distributions."

    Open sourcing java wouldn't really hurt them, and god knows java could use it.

    tutwabee 06/04/04 06:19:53 AM EDT

    This will be a great thing for Sun and the open-source community, but only as long as the source is licensed under a non-restricting license. I don''t think that is going to happen though. If it happen, all I can say is "rejoice!" :)

    leshert 06/04/04 06:18:35 AM EDT

    It''s not nearly as big a deal as open-sourcing, say, Solaris, simply because it''s not going to wreck a primary revenue stream for Java.

    I''ve wondered for a while where Sun makes money from Java, particularly enough to recoup what they spend on it. I can''t imagine it affects sales of Solaris boxes that much.

    dekeji 06/04/04 06:17:34 AM EDT

    Sun has been saying that they will "somehow open source Java" since 1996. Has it happened? No. They changed their mind.

    Sun has also been saying that they will "somehow have Java standardized by a standard body" since 1996. Has it happened? No. They changed their mind.

    Sun like Java being owned completely by them, and they won''t change. What they will do is that they will fiddle with the Java source license a little an declare that it is now "open source", just like they created the "Java community process" and claim that it''s an "open process".

    You don''t have to worry about Java forking: Sun isn''t going to give up control. They are going to keep Java proprietary, and they are not going to "open source" it in any sense anybody other than they themselves would recognize.

    RAMMS+EIN 06/04/04 06:16:18 AM EDT

    Java is a dream that never came true:

    1. Write once, run everywhere is a myth, because you need a good VM and class libraries, which are only available for a few platforms.

    2. The official distribution is bloated to the top and runs slow even with JIT compilation. Java programs use lots of memory. This makes Java unnatractive even if you can guaratee it will work on your target system.

    3. GUIs in Java are a nightmare. AWT can be a bitch to code for, lacking many useful components. Swing uses "pure Java" widgets, which are slow and don''t fit well with the native widgets on your system. SWT ought to be better, but is not included in the distribution, so if you want it, you need more bloat.

    4. High performance apps are out. GUI apps are a nightmare. What''s left? Simple command line utilities? Nah, much better written in a different language. Whomever heard of multi-second startup time for hello world, and BufferedReader in = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(System.in)); before you can do something useful with standard input?

    Oh yeah, it runs on cellphones. At least, the very much scaled down J2ME does. But don''t expect good performance, and don''t expect software written for some cellphone to run on yours. It''s the same story again.

    Java has failed.

    SuperKendall 06/04/04 06:15:19 AM EDT

    Say, isn''t "OpenJava" called .Net?

    leprasmurf 06/04/04 06:14:23 AM EDT

    I don''t understand what trouble they are having with opening the source. Isn''t as easy as publishing the source code?

    I guess I can understand the fear of losing the "write once, run anywhere" mentality, but if that''s one of the main attractions to the language doesn''t it stand to reason that people won''t really veer too far off?

    bwy 06/04/04 05:49:48 AM EDT

    A person has to ask - could the OSS community ever have produced Java? Could it have produced a gem like OS X?

    OSS has the skillset, some of the sharpest folks on the planet. But who is keeping them coordinated? Who is the CEO with a single, cohesive vision?

    Don''t get me wrong on OSS here. It has produced cool, big things like the Linux Kernel, Gnome, KDE, XFree86, etc., etc. All wonderful pieces of a puzzle that just doesn''t seem to fit together quite as well as they need to when it comes to building a complete OS platform.

    shaitand 06/04/04 05:48:05 AM EDT

    There really is no value in sun controlling java itself.

    Sun owns the Java brandname and wants to exploit that, that is their asset. If you want proof, look at the Sun Java Desktop which has not the slightest thing to do with Java.

    If turned over to the open source crowd, Java will be powerful and popular in no time. That means the word Java will be used all the time, making Sun''s brand more powerful.

    anOOn 06/04/04 05:45:07 AM EDT

    >>having open-source Java can only benefit the community<<

    you have no idea what you are talking about.
    open sourcing java runs a major risk of breaking its cross-platformness, one of the very things it was created for in the first place.

    TWooster 06/04/04 05:43:42 AM EDT

    This is an excellent boon for open source software. Even if we only get small portions of it, having open-source Java can only benefit the community.

    Thanks, Sun!

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