Sun surprises with GPL for open source Java

Developers, compatibility eyed in use of GNU

With wealthy companies increasingly eyeing the advantages of going open source with their proprietary wares these days, the caveats are multiplying around open source promises. And yet there was Sun Microsystems last week, doing things the old-school way: offering the Micro, Standard, and Enterprise editions of Java via the GNU GPL (General Public License) 2. The choice of the liberal GPL is significant because it requires derivatives of GPL code and any code combined with it to be distributed under the GPL.

Offering Java via open source, said Sun President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, is “one of the most momentous changes on the landscape not only for Sun but for the entire Internet community.” Others joined Schwartz to applaud the move.

“Sun never really had a revenue stream around Java,” said Theresa Lanowitz, founder and CEO of Voke, an analyst company. By opening up Java, developers can fix source code and contribute these to the community, she said.

“It’ll be very good that the Java trap won’t exist anymore,” said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, referring to a situation in which distribution of free software with Java was inhibited.

But Sun also acknowledged ISV concerns, allowing use of the “Classpath exception” to the GPL, which enables combinations of proprietary code with GPL Classpath libraries without the need to redistribute the proprietary code. Sun will also maintain its own commercial version of Java and will continue the Java Community Process for amending the technology.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.