Sun expands open-source Java plan

Server and software company to release open-source components, open up Java for gadgets this year.

Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems will begin releasing significant open-source Java components this year and also will extend the collaborative strategy to the gadget version of the software technology.

By the end of 2006, the server and software company will release the JavaC compiler and the Hotspot virtual machine, two key technology elements to run programs written in the Java programming language, said Laurie Tolson, vice president of developer products and programs.

The components are part of Java Standard Edition (SE), which runs on servers and desktop computers. In addition, Sun will release all of Java Micro Edition (ME), the version for gadgets such as mobile phones, by the end of this year, Tolson said at a meeting with reporters in San Francisco in conjunction with the .

Sun has long been lambasted by open-source fans as a proprietary company. The open-source Java effort, along with , are the highest-profile elements of an aggressive program to reverse perception and reality.

Ultimately, Sun hopes to make allies out of programmers who have influence over the technology paying customers use. "We're trying to engage the community," Tolson said, adding that the company is seeking feedback about details such as licensing options at a Java forum Web site.

The full Java SE software package will be open-source software in the first half of 2007--probably the early part, Tolson said. However, Sun doesn't have rights to some elements such as the software to render fonts on a screen, so there will be proprietary modules that accompany the open-source software, she said.

Sun hasn't yet determined what license or licenses to use for open-source Java. However, for Glassfish, the open-source version of Java Enterprise Edition (EE) that Sun released in 2005, Sun chose the the company created. (Java EE consists of several higher-level components that require a Java SE foundation to run.)

Open-source advocates for years have pressured Sun to release Java's source code as an open-source project, but . But the imperative for open-source software is greater now, and forking no longer an overriding concern, Tolson said.

"It's evolution of the market as a whole. The demand for more open-source technologies has changed. And the community itself is more willing to help maintain its (Java's) compatibility," Tolson said.

For the most part, Java didn't fork, though variations in versions from BEA Systems, IBM and others raised some complications. But in the years it refused, developers turned their attention to other options.

In 2005, the Apache Software Foundation began to create an open-source version of Java SE. IBM, which was instrumental in helping Sun launch Java in the 1990s, weeks after it began.

"I think competition is a good thing," Tolson said, but Sun would prefer collaboration in this case. "We're hoping to engage enough with the community that they put their forces behind ours," she said.

Microsoft, after an ugly legal spat over its Java license, released a Java analog of its own: the C# programming language and .Net environment for running C# programs. While .Net lacks Java's wide availability on many different operating systems and processors, Microsoft released enough of the technology as an industry standard that Novell has released an open-source version, called Mono, that runs on Linux.

Numerous companies have licensed Java from Sun since it was released in 1995. Sun will continue with that program, Tolson said: "What they get is a productized version along with support."


Correction: This story misstated when the full Java SE software package will be open-source software. It will be in the first half of 2007.