IBM open source Java proposal puzzles Sun official

Schwartz stresses platform compatibility

IBM’s proposal to have the Java programming language offered under an open source format is puzzling a Sun official, who stressed Tuesday that the current licensing program ensures compatibility for the language.

While IBM has maintained that Sun has too much control of Java under the Java Community Process, Java creator Sun remains steadfast in believing Sun is on the right track. Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for software, questioned IBM’s efforts during a Sun “Chalk Talk” session with the media in San Francisco, during which he also outlined Sun’s plans to boost its installed base of software worldwide.

“We looked at the [IBM] request and our first question was, 'That seems a little bonky. Could you explain what [open sourcing of Java] means?'” said Schwartz.

IBM last week in an open letter suggested Sun make Java available under an open source format. But Schwartz said Java places compatibility as the most important imperative. He cited the open source platform Linux as an example of a technology that has “forked” into different implementations, albeit only one that is important.

“In the server side, Linux has basically forked so that there’s only one Linux distribution that matters in North America,” with that distribution coming from Red Hat, Schwartz said.

“The modus operandi of the Linux movement was to create choice” and encourage forking, Schwartz said.

“In the Java world, we had the opposite motivation, which was to ensure that compatibility [of the platform] ruled the day,” he said. Allowing for differentiation in implementing Java technology also has been a goal, said Schwartz.

Java source code is available for anyone to look at, he said. “What you can’t do is call it Java unless you have passed the Java compatibility tests that we and the Java community have invested so richly in,” Schwartz said.  Sun employees administer the compatibility tests, but the company is open to having a third-party lab do the testing, Schwartz added.

He also said IBM is struggling for differentiation and that Sun has offered many technologies, such as Network File System and the OpenOffice office applications, under a General Public License while IBM has not offered technologies under a GPL. IBM has a problem in that the main beneficiary of its Linux demand generation is Red Hat and not IBM, according to Schwartz.

Asked if Sun was planning to meet with IBM pertaining to the open source Java proposal, Schwartz said Sun is always meeting with IBM.

Schwartz during the session hailed Sun’s plans to spread the use of its software, such as its Java Enterprise System suite of server applications and JavaCard authentication technology for handhelds, overseas.

“Bridging the digital divide has a lot of political overtones. What it means is you’ll find teenagers in the Philippines walking around with [wireless] phones,” he said. “The point is, they can’t afford PCs. They can afford a wireless device.”

“As a result of delivering technology to those who could not historically afford it, we have grown our market,” Schwartz said.

Sun is pondering per-citizen pricing for selling its technology in developing nations, with lesser developed countries paying less, he said. He suggested a 40-cents-per-citizen price that governments would pay as a license fee to Sun for the Java Enterprise System and Java Desktop System packages. Per-citizen pricing is expected to be set by mid-year. The company also is formulating plans for selling its software into non-Sun environments.

Schwartz repeated attacks on Hewlett-Packard, saying HP-UX customers presents a migration opportunity for Sun. Java Enterprise System will run on both HP-UX and Windows by the end of the year. HP has gambled and lost by opting for Intel’s Itanium chip, Schwartz stressed.

“With the evolution of Intel support for 64-bit execution in Xeon through Prescott, we have begun to see a pretty interesting shift in the marketplace, not really against Itanium per se,” Schwartz said. “But I think the company that is most significantly damaged and disenfranchised by that shift has been HP.”

“The true victim of Itanium’s failure isn’t Intel,” but HP, he said.  HP officials could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Schwartz also said Sun is likely to align with a PC hardware vendor overseas to promote its Java Desktop System as an alternative to Windows.

In other remarks Schwartz said:

- A retailer such as Wal-Mart may eventually be able to outsell Dell in the PC market, since Dell’s specialty is re-selling other peoples’ technologies.

- Piracy of Java technology actually helps build Java skills. “If you’re going to steal my software, I’d rather have you steal my software than someone else’s,” he said. 

- A recently announced program provides free hardware to developers who sign up for Sun’s developer network for $1,499 per year.

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