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Sun mulls an open-source Java server

The Java creator says it is considering an open-source model for its Java Enterprise System.

Add Sun's Java server software suite to the company's list of open-source candidates.

The company on Thursday issued a statement saying, "Sun is considering open sourcing Java Enterprise System, but no final decision has been made." A Sun representative attributed the statement to Stephen Borcich, executive director of Sun's Java Enterprise System, and offered no other details.

Sun has faced pressure to release the Java language and associated programming software to the open-source community, though it has indicated that it is reluctant to do so. Sun has also said that it will eventually make its Solaris Unix operating system open source, but has not offered details on timing or licensing changes.

The company is eager to build closer ties to open-source developers. Sun last month submitted some of its Java software--an experimental user interface design called Looking Glass--to open source. It also runs NetBeans, a project to create open-source software development tools.

The Java Enterprise System is a bundle of Java server software products that includes a Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application server, identity management software, portal software and other components. Sun launched Java Enterprise System last year and priced it at $100 per employee per year.

The pricing scheme and packaging are central to Sun's strategy to gain a bigger share of the Java server software market, which is dominated by IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle.

Creating an open-source version of its Java software suite could help Sun better compete with providers of proprietary and open-source Java application servers, according to analysts.

Sun is already very competitive on price, but having the Java Enterprise System software available will attract more developers to Sun's software, said Pierre Fricke, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates. Fricke pointed out that the IBM-founded Eclipse project has spurred usage among developers of IBM's WebSphere Studio, which was the basis of the Eclipse software.

"The key to application platform battles is attracting developers," Fricke said. "If Sun wants to shake things up, they can create a viable open-source platform."

Open-source Java application servers are already on the market, and more are on the way. JBoss sells services around its freely available Java application server and an Apache project called Geronimo to build a J2EE application server is also under development.

The source code to Sun's most basic Java application server is already available and the product is free, although its usage is governed by a commercial, rather than open-source, license. Java Enterprise System includes a more sophisticated application server as well as several other server software components.