After a seemingly endless series of pre-announcements and forward-looking briefings, Sun Microsystems has finally begun the process of making Java open source. Better still, it's doing it for real: The code will be released under the GNU GPL (General Public License).
Sun has promised to eventually release the code to all its own software for some time, and it has already made available the code to a number of products. But these releases were generally made under Sun's own open source license, called CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). The decision to release Java under the GPL is something of a departure, but it's sure to be a welcome one among the free software faithful. Although CDDL is recognized by the Free Software Foundation as a free software license, it is widely perceived as being more aligned with the interests of commercial software businesses than is the GPL, and less in tune with the spirit of free software.
The most obvious benefit of choosing the GPL is that this move, once and for all, aligns Java with the GNU/Linux community -- including distributions like Debian, which only include software based on very strict guidelines with regard to licensing and intellectual property.
Says Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz in his blog, "The GPL is the same license used to manage the evolution of GNU/Linux -- in choosing the GPL, we've opened the door to comingling the communities, and the code itself."
Even more interesting, Schwartz made reference to another story that has been bouncing around the headlines of late: the recent partnership between Microsoft and Novell. That deal was "one of the strongest motivations to select the GPL," according to Schwartz -- which would make Sun execs very prescient, indeed, considering that the partnership was only announced a couple of weeks ago. Or perhaps waiting for the Microsoft/Novell deal to close explains Sun's delay in formally open sourcing Java?
At any rate, Schwartz adds, "Those that say open source software can't be safe for customers - or that commercially indemnified software can't foster community -- are merely advancing their own agenda. Without any basis in fact."
What do you think? Is the decision to release Java under the GPL a victory for the free software movement? And are we seeing the battle lines being drawn between those companies who believe open source can coexist with business models like Microsoft's, and those who choose cleave more closely to open source ideals? Talk back to us, below.