Sun looks to free up the rest of Java

Company eyes Linux installations as potential new users

Sun Microsystems is stepping up efforts to boost Java usage in Linux shops by working to remove some final encumbrances in the open-source Java platform.

By freeing these up, Java can be fully open-source and thus be packaged more easily with Linux distributions. In conjunction with this activity, Sun is talking with Linux distributors, including OpenSuse, Ubuntu and Fedora to have them offer an updated version of OpenJDK, which constitutes the open-source Java platform. Sun plans to offer the updated OpenJDK soon and clear the last few encumbrances later.

"We're hoping to see some movement [with the] Linux distributions in the very near future, hopefully by JavaOne," said Rich Sands, group manager for developer marketing at Sun, in an interview on Tuesday. The JavaOne conference is to be held in San Francisco in two weeks.

OpenJDK is based on Java Platform, Standard Edition (SE) 6. The open sourcing process began in November 2006. But a few components, including some encryption libraries, graphics libraries, the sound engine, and some SNMP management code still could not be offered under the GNU General Public License. These components accounted for 4 percent of the platform.

"We've been engaging with the open-source community for Java to finish off the OpenJDK project, and the specific thing that we've been working on with them is clearing the last bits that we didn't have the rights," to distribute, Sands said.

"Over the past year, we have pretty much removed most of those encumbrances," Sands said. Work still needs to be done to offer the Java sound engine and SNMP code via open source; that effort is expected to be completed this year. Developers, though, may be able to proceed without a component like the sound engine, Sands said.

The few remaining encumbrances on Java have prevented Linux distributors from offering a fully open-source version of Java, said Sands. "All those Linux distributions, they haven’t had a full-blown implementation in them," he said.

Once Java is 100 percent open source, it can be shipped as part of Linux, Sands said. Ubuntu has distributed Java as separately available commercial software, he noted. But once Java is fully open source, it can be offered as part of the free Ubuntu distribution and other Linux variants, Sands said.

"We're trying to get Java into places it's never been before," Sands said. Linux developers, absent of an open-source Java, have been building applications with languages like C, C++, and PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor), he said.

Sun with its Linux push for Java seeks to expand the footprint of Java usage worldwide, which could yield opportunities to sell support, services and systems to these new users.

OpenJDK features a runtime as well as compilers and tools to build Java programs. "What we can do is create Java programs and then run them on Linux," said Sands.

Having Java on Linux helps Sun, said analyst Michael Cote of RedMonk. "I think it's in Sun's interest to have Java spread as widely as possible," he said. Linux developers have wanted Java but Cote confessed, "I don't really know to which magnitude."

Sun's bread-and-butter operating system has been Solaris, but the Linux push shows the company's determination to spread Java to Solaris's open source rival. Meanwhile, Sun also has sought to make Solaris to more palatable to Linux users through Project Indiana, which is intended to provide binaries for the OpenSolaris open source implementation of Solaris, similar to how Linux is packaged.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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