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Sun opens some Java source code

The company plans to share a modest chunk of code, an experimental user interface called Project Looking Glass.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
4 min read
In a move that reflects the growing power of the open-source programming movement, Sun Microsystems plans Monday to share a modest chunk of Java source code, an experimental user interface for desktop computers called Phoroject Looking Glass.

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The move, planned for Sun's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, acknowledges that the open-source software philosophy is important even in areas such as Java, where Sun has been reluctant to let it encroach. In the case of Looking Glass, Sun hopes the open-source move will trigger developer interest in using Java for interfaces with 3D graphics.

Releasing the source code of the Looking Glass interface and the prefabricated Java 3D software it uses should indeed arouse attention from developers and software companies, said John Loiacono, Sun's recently promoted executive vice president of software.

Java has been criticized as being too slow to run applications such as computer-aided design that tax a computer's 3D graphics abilities, but the Java3D extension changes that, Loiacono said. "We've proven with Java3D you can do CAD or an entire user environment in 3D, and Java performs quite well," he said.

With open-source software, most prominently exemplified by the Linux operating system, anyone may see, modify and redistribute the programs. The idea has proved powerful enough that even Microsoft, which typically maintains tight secrecy, has released some programming tools as open-source software.

And IBM, a major Java ally, has called on Sun to make Java open source. Sun gave the idea a chilly reception but later said it would happen eventually.

Sun also will announce two other open-source projects: the JDesktop Network Components to make it easier to build programs that use charts, tables and forms, and the JDesktop Integration Components to make it possible to link Java desktop software to existing applications such as Web browsers and e-mail programs.

Sun is still hashing out the details of some of the open-source work, but to contribute to the Java 3D project, programmers must sign an as-yet unavailable Joint Copyright Assignment form. Eventually, outside programmers who demonstrate expertise will be granted permission to commit new source code to the project, according to the Web site.

However, Sun only released a tiny part of the vast Java code base as open source, and it didn't fundamentally change how Java is governed, through the Java Community Process, a group of companies that collectively determine the future of myriad Java enhancements.

Looking Glass, demonstrated many times in the past year, lets a computer user slide unwanted windows to the side of the screen so they appear somewhat like books in a bookshelf. It also lets a user flip a window around to take notes on the "back." And background imagery shifts slightly in response to where the mouse cursor moves.

Java is software that lets a single program run on multiple machines--for example, a Windows or Linux PC. There are different classes of Java for gadgets, desktop computers and servers.

Tardy Tiger
Another spotlight at the show will shine on the new version of Java for desktop computers--a version code-named "Tiger." Previously called Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) 1.5, it's now going by the name J2SE 5.0, Keller said.

The move hearkens back to Sun's 1998 release of the successor to Solaris 2.6, which Sun named version 7 to try to indicate how much of a departure it was. And with Java in 1998, instead of calling a new version 1.2, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company opted for "Java 2."

But the new names are justified, said Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java Web services and developer tools at Sun.

"This is a major release--probably the most significant release since the first," Keller said. "For the first time, we've actually done updates to the language."

However, Tiger is ambling in somewhat late. According to the schedule published by the Java Community Process, J2SE 5.0 was expected in 2003. And though Sun will discuss Tiger, the software itself won't ship until this fall, the company said.

The new version also runs programs much faster--40 percent to 50 percent in some cases, Loiacono said.

One change in the language is the addition of "generic types," a feature that makes it easier to recycle modules of code for different tasks that require different categories of data. Another is an expansion of options for "garbage collection," a process by which Java frees up memory that a program has stopped using but didn't release.

These changes mean that programs written with J2SE 5.0 won't run on computers with 1.4 or earlier, Keller said, but earlier Java programs will run in the new Java environment.

Hooking developers
As expected, Sun also will release new developer tools called Java Creator Studio, a project that was code-named "Rave."

Where previous programming tools from Sun were geared toward advanced users, Java Creator Studio is for people with less expertise and other work besides programming to get done--an area where Sun acknowledges rival Microsoft is stronger. Sun said last year it hoped to increase the 3 million Java programmers to 10 million with the project.

Continuing its strategy of selling bundles of products for annual subscriptions, Sun will sell Java Creator Studio for $99 per year, a price that includes membership in a developer community that will offer premium content not available to nonsubscribers, Keller said.

That content includes instructions, code examples, advance looks at coming technology and forums where programmers can get answers to their questions, he said.

In addition, Sun will begin selling a workstation package costing $1,495 a year for three years that includes an Opteron workstation, Sun's Solaris version of the Unix operating system and its higher-end programming tools, Java Studio Standard, for more sophisticated programmers.

On Tuesday, Sun also will contribute 350,000 lines of code from Java Studio Standard to the open-source NetBeans project.