Sun to coders: Open-source Java won't change your life

Having access to the source code of the Java platform won't affect how developers work, the company says.

Sun Microsystems' decision to make Java SE open source won't make any difference to the majority of Java programmers, according to the company's chief open-source officer.

Simon Phipps, speaking at a briefing in London on Tuesday, told Builder UK that he's long held the belief that coders working with Java don't care whether the source code is available for their platform.

"I'm not sure it changes very much of your life. This has been a perspective I've had on open-source Java SE for some time: There are precious few people who really care," Phipps said. "I actually don't think most Java developers will be in any way affected by what's going on here in the short term."

Sun's announcement that it would make Java SE open-source comes after a long build-up with a lot of hints by senior executives that the move was in the pipeline. Sun has faced criticism in the past for not opening Java up fast enough, but much of the delay in opening up the code has been due to legal work by Sun to ensure it had the rights to do so, according to the company.

However, Phipps said he thinks that developers working with Java aren't interested in its internals. "What really matters about Java SE to most people who complain about it, is that it isn't in Debian, for example, rather than they want to devote half their life to working on the source code", he said. However, having an open-source process in place around the components that Java coders are using should improve quality, Phipps said. "There are opportunities for people who find bugs to fix them themselves, go into the mailing lists, and submit those bug fixers to the committers of that code."

Phipps explained that this situation mirrored those of other open-source projects, but maintained it was still a benefit for software to be open source. "Take the Linux kernel. Precious few people contribute anything to the Linux kernel, but that doesn't mean that it's not important for it to be open source; it just means that there are not many people whose calling is to be a Linux kernel committer," he said.

The group of coders committing code back to the project is expected to be a fraction of the overall number of Java developers. "I don't know how many people will make up the open-source Java SE community, but it's unlikely to be more than a few hundred," Phipps said. "The number of people who will be interested will be vast, but the number actually cutting code will be quite small."

Jonathan Bennett of Builder UK reported from London.

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