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Sun looks to sweeten Java

The Java steward plans to simplify "excessively complicated" commercial license, as it readies an overhaul of the standard.

Sun Microsystems plans to simplify its Java license for commercial software companies.

The new licensing tack is designed to give those developers more flexibility in how they can use the Java source code, Sun executives said. It doesn't mean that Sun intends to make Java available in an open-source-style license, as some Java proponents have urged, they said.

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What's new:
Sun is working on an initiative to simplify the Java license it uses with commercial software companies.

Bottom line:
Sun wants to make Java easier to work with and more attractive to software providers and programmers, as it faces ongoing competition from Microsoft and open-source development alternatives.

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James Gosling, the chief technology officer at Sun's Developer Products group, is scheduled to discuss the company's Java licensing approach at a press conference on Wednesday.

If licensing restrictions are eased, that could make it easier to bundle Java with open-source software, notably Linux, said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

"Increasingly, the divide between commercial and noncommercial applications is blurring, so I'm not surprised there's a sentiment towards simplifying the overall licensing picture," O'Grady said.

Sun controls the license that governs use of the Java programming language and software required to run Java programs. Commercial companies, such as IBM and Oracle, use the Sun Community Source License, or SCSL. In 2003, Sun introduced the Java Research License, or JRL, which is meant to encourage Java research among academics.

Now Sun is working on a separate initiative to overhaul its commercial Java license.

"The JRL is the noncommercial simplification of SCSL, and we're evaluating how to simplify SCSL for commercial use," said Jean Elliott, director of product marketing for Sun's Java 2 Standard Edition. "We'd like to see (the commercial license) be like the human tail and eventually go away, because we felt it was excessively complicated."

Sun's Java licensing policies are closely watched by companies that sell Java-based products as well as by proponents of open-source software. Last year, IBM sent an open letter to Sun urging the company to license the Java software under an open-source license. Sun has indicated that it is reluctant to do that, in part because it may cause incompatibilities in the Java standard.

"Mustang" set to roll next year
The planned commercial license changes come as Sun prepares to disclose the features of the next major revision of Java. The "Mustang" release of Java 2 Standard Edition--the software to build and run Java applications--is expected to be completed by the middle of 2006, said Mark Reinhold, J2SE architect and chief engineer at Sun.

The J2SE software, which is used mainly for creating desktop PC applications, underpins the server-side Java specification called Java 2 Enterprise Edition. An update to that standard, called J2EE version 5.0, is planned for release in the second half of 2005. Another update to J2EE is due once the revamp of Mustang is completed.

Mustang will not be as significant a change as the Tiger release of J2SE, which was delivered last September. However, it will have significant enhancements, Reinhold said. Full details of planned features are expected to be released in the next two months.

With Mustang, Sun is looking to ensure that Java applications are compatible with existing programs and that they can be more easily "diagnosed" and monitored for bugs. The software for writing programs that conform to Web services protocols is being overhauled and will be included in the J2SE software, rather than available as a separate add-on, Reinhold said.

The Mustang update will also look to simplify Java programming and make it easier to incorporate programs written in scripting languages such as Perl, Python or PHP, he added. It will include the software created by the Java Specification Request 223, a working group that is designing changes to Java that will enable Web pages created with scripting languages to run in server Java applications.

During the development of Mustang, Sun will release the source-code and binary versions of the software as it's built, rather than deliver it as a single package once it's completed, Reinhold said. The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., also plans to release regular updates to the Mustang software every other month for bug fixes and other changes.

Until now, major overhauls to the Java software were done every two to three years. Sun changed to a quicker release schedule because the existing system "did not allow us to be as nimble as we'd like, especially in the face of competing platforms like (Microsoft's) .Net," Reinhold said.