Sun CEO: Open source Java is "momentous"

Company still to maintain commercial variant

Santa Clara, Calif. -- Sun Microsystems's offering of the Java platform via open source under the GNU General Public License is a "momentous" change, said Sun President/CEO Jonathan Schwartz on Monday. But IBM wants the Apache Software Foundation in charge of Java.

During an event at company headquarters, Sun officially released Java to the open source world, after much clamoring for several years by the developer community at large as well as by other vendors. Java variants released included the Standard, Micro, and Enterprise versions.

Sun, however, still will maintain a commercially licensed and indemnified version of Java while the community can extend the platform in an open source fashion. Open source contributions will even be considered for inclusion in Sun's commercial Java.

The open sourcing is "what I consider to actually be one of the most momentous changes on the landscape, not only for Sun but for the entire community," Schwartz said. "This is a really fundamental change in my view."

With the open source move, Sun sees a network effect in which a network becomes more valuable as more people join, Schwartz said. And Sun's business benefits as well, he added.

To attract Linux developers and promote compatibility, Sun altered its planned course of releasing Java under its own CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) and opted instead for the Linux-friendly GPL 2 license.

Under the GPL, any derivatives of GPL code and code combined with it must be distributed under the liberal GPL license. Acknowledging ISV concerns, Sun is allowing use of the "ClassPath exception" to the GPL, which enables combination of proprietary code with GPL ClassPath libraries without the need to redistribute the proprietary code.

Java out-ships Solaris, GNU Linux, the Macintosh, Symbian, and Tivo combined, Schwartz said. "We're talking about billions and billions of users."

IBM, although applauding the move to go open source, released a statement objecting to Sun's strategy. Attributing its statement to Rod Smith, vice president of Emerging Internet Technologies in the IBM Software Group, the company advised an Apache path for Java.

“IBM supports all the OSI approved open source licenses. Having said that, there already is an important existing open source effort working with Sun to create a Java-compatible implementation of Java SE (Standard Edition) in the Apache Foundation -- namely the Harmony project. In addition, there have been some very recent announcements that companies active in the Java ME (Micro Edition) space will be contributing key Java technologies to the Apache Foundation to jumpstart Java ME projects," Smith said.

“In light of the Apache projects, we have discussed with Sun our strong belief that Sun should contribute their Java technologies to Apache rather than starting another open source Java project, or at least make their contributions available under an ‘Apache-friendly’ license to ensure the open source Java community isn't fragmented and disenfranchised, instead Sun would be bringing the same benefits of OS Java to this significant and growing open source community.”

IBM's suggestion drew a sharp retort from Schwartz.

"I find it a little curious that IBM would oppose the GPL," Schwartz said. "I sure wouldn't want to see them turning their back on the open source community."

"This [licensing option] is what we and the community felt was the right answer," Schwartz said.

Sun showed video endorsements of the move from organizations such as Red Hat and the Free Software Foundation.

“The ASF has always welcomed code donations from Sun and other vendors. Many of our projects started off from such roots. But as the Harmony FAQ indicates, even though we welcome all contributions, it is up to the development community to see what makes sense, “ said Jim Jagielski, Apache Public Relations Chair and ASF Board Member in an e-mail.

“Sun certainly has the option and right to release Java under any open source license it sees fit,” Jagielski continued, “but the ASF obviously sees the need for an implementation that has fewer license restrictions, hence the Harmony project (which is no longer in Incubation).”

"It'll be very good that the Java trap won’t exist anymore. It'll be a thing of the past," said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation. The so-called Java trap was a situation in which distribution of free software containing Java was inhibited by Java's previous licensing terms.

The possibility of multiple distributions of Java resulting from the open source endeavor is "highly likely," said Rich Green, Sun vice president of software. Variants could emerge for embedded systems or new markets, he said. But the GPL promotes compatibility, he added.

"The point is that this enables Java to permeate into more places on Earth than Sun alone or any of its immediate partners could pursue," Green said.

The Java Community Process for official updates to Java technology remains in place. For example, release of Java Standard Edition 6, based on Java Specification Request 270, remains on track for a release in December.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.