IBM to make Java database open source

Big Blue is creating an open-source project around Cloudscape, a niche Java database, CNET News.com has learned.

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Stephen Shankland
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Raising its stakes in open-source software, IBM plans to create an open-source project around Cloudscape, a specialized Java database, CNET News.com has learned.

In conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo next week, Big Blue is expected to detail the open-source initiative, code-named Derby, according to a source familiar with IBM's plans. The software will be governed by the open-source Apache Software License and stewarded by the Apache Software Foundation, the source said.

Representatives for IBM and Apache declined to comment for this story.

Cloudscape is a niche product in IBM's overall data information line and has tiny market share compared with its multibillion-dollar DB2 franchise. IBM has used Cloudscape as an embedded data store as part of its Workplace desktop application line.

As a Java-only database, it does not compete directly against mainstream relational database servers, such as DB2, Oracle or Microsoft's SQL Server, according to industry executives.

Still, the move to make its database products open source deepens IBM's commitment to the open-source development model. With its multibillion-dollar investment in Linux, Big Blue is credited with having made open-source technology more palatable to corporate customers.

The decision to release Cloudscape into open source mimics moves by other proprietary software companies, which have created open-source projects around existing products in an effort to generate more interest in the product and make it easier for programmers to access it. At LinuxWorld next week, Computer Associates International will release its Ingres r3 database, a product with limited market share, into open source.

Putting an existing product into open source is not a surefire recipe for stimulating usage or sales, said Michael Olson, president and CEO of Sleepycat Software, which offers its own open-source database.

"Just releasing something under an open-source license doesn't suddenly mean that you have people who care and will contribute," Olson said.

IBM gained Cloudscape through its 2001 acquisition of database maker Informix, which had purchased Cloudscape in 1999. Cloudscape was developed in the mid-1990s as a relational database created specifically to work with the Java programming language. However, broad adoption of Cloudscape and other Java-only databases never took off as hoped.

"From a technical point of view, Cloudscape is a good database, but it's all Java, and developers usually want to work with a full-blown server, which is why we haven't seen much of these products," said Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing at open-source-database company MySQL.