Sun is expected to announce next week that it will make the Sun SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology) device platform available via open source, but a user expressed concerns about Sun's commitment to the technology.
Sun SPOT is a Java-based experimental platform intended to enable development of products like wireless sensors, robotics, and communication devices. The open-sourcing is expected to be made official at the Java Mobile & Embedded Developer Days Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., which is being held January 23-24.
"In this case, I think what's a little bit different is it's not just open-sourcing just the Sun SPOT code," said Roger Brinkley, mobile and embedded community leader at Sun. "It's everything related to Sun SPOT. It's the hardware, it's the software."
Included in the open source endeavor would be the Squawk virtual machine featured as part of Sun SPOT. Through the open-source move, Sun hopes to attract more developers to Sun SPOT. "The open-sourcing allows a lot more extension and development to occur," Brinkley said.
The plan calls for Sun SPOT to be offered under the GNU General Public License version 2, which means derivatives of GPL code and code that is combined with it must be redistributed. Sun, however, previously has permitted use of the "ClassPath" exception to the GPL, which enables combining of proprietary code with GPL ClassPath libraries without the need to redistribute proprietary code.
Contacted afterward, Sun SPOT user Bruce Boyes, president of Systronix, lauded the technology but had concerns about Sun's commitment to it. By classifying the technology as experimental, Sun shows no published commitment to make it available for any period of time commercially, he said. Systronix has been trying to get a commercial license for two years, he said.
"SPOT is a very cool educational and experimental device. We'd like it to become a great commercial and industrial device too. Systronix would like to help make that happen," Boyes said. Systronix is using Sun SPOT in robots, which could be networked and potentially be used in applications, such as roaming of airports to provide security. "We use the Sun SPOT as the application brain," said Boyes.
He also expressed concerns about the GPL, which has requirements that can place limits on its use in commercial ventures since software involving it has to be contributed back to the open-source arena. "Open-sourcing would be most interesting if there was a reasonable path to a commercial license," Boyes said.
In response, Sun released a statement from Roger Meike, a senior director of Sun Microsystems Labs.
"Our objective is to expand the market for Java in embedded devices. The first step is to inspire people with flexible, easy-to-use devices and software designed to inspire students, researchers and hobbyists, thus the Sun SPOTs," Meike said. "As the market develops we plan to license technology to those who can benefit from our work just as we have getting Java on well over 1 billion cell phones.