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Sun promises to open-source Java

Sun execs say the question is no longer whether the Java programming language will be open-sourced, but how it should be done.

Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
Joris Evers
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems will open-source Java--it just has to figure out how to do it, company executives said Tuesday.

Open-source advocates have urged Sun for years to open-source the Java programming language, but the company has resisted, citing compatibility concerns and fear of losing control. Now the company has promised that Java will become open source.

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Video: Sun set to open up Java
At JavaOne, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Rich Green, the company's new executive vice president of software, officially announce that Java will become open source.

"At this point, it is not a question of whether, but it is a question of how" Sun will open-source Java, Rich Green, the company's new executive vice president of software, said at Sun's annual JavaOne developer conference here.

The previous concerns have not gone away, said Green, who rejoined the company earlier this month. "There are two battling forces here," he said. One force is the demand for Sun to open up Java, and the other is concern for compatibility. "This is something for us to go figure out," he said.

Green didn't give a time line or details of how Sun would proceed. When Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz repeated Greens' statement onstage, the audience cheered. "The question is not whether we will open-source Java, the question is how," Schwartz reiterated.

In a meeting with reporters after the opening address at JavaOne, Schwartz and Green shared a few more details. "All the community will be involved," Green said. "I feel like I have not one boss, but thousands of them. This has to be done as a group," he said.

Because it is not a simple task, no targets can be set regarding arrival time, Green said.

Sun hopes that releasing Java under an Open Source Initiative, or OSI, license will increase the number of Java users. "Minimally, (we expect) that those who have said that they won't use Java unless it is under an OSI license will now use Java," Schwartz said. "It just grows the tent."

Schwartz makes the right point, said RedMonk analyst James Governor. "If there are people out there saying they won't use it because of religion, that makes a lot of sense." Yet for enterprise Java users, compatibility is a critical issue, and Sun has to tread carefully, Governor said.

The jury is still out on whether Sun's announcement will make a difference, said Lyn Robison, an analyst at the Burton Group. "I'd like to see how they are going to do it," he said.

IBM--a Sun rival, but also a big Java user--supports Sun's action in committing to open-sourcing Java, Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technology, said in a statement.

"Java has grown in popularity, but the rate and pace of innovation has been limited by the degree of openness Sun was then willing to embrace," Smith said. IBM would gladly help Sun bring Java into the open-source realm, he added.

Increasing the number of Java users should in turn grow Sun's business, Schwartz said. "Open-sourcing products doesn't mean you have less revenue; it means you have less barriers to revenue," he said. "Folks that want to pay for the product will continue to pay for it. They want access to support and services."

Since Sun open-sourced Solaris, the company's business related to the operating system has grown at a rate Schwartz hadn't seen before at Sun, he said. "Open source allows us to appeal to those customers that will only use or incorporate open-source products," he said.

Attendees of JavaOne will not be getting hold of the source code for Java under an open-source license. But, as expected, Sun on Tuesday announced it is making other software available to the open-source community. This software includes Sun Java Studio Creator, Sun Java System Portal Server, Sun's Java Message System-based message queue and Web Services Interoperability Technology.

Also, as previously reported, Sun announced the Operating System Distributor's License for Java, which is designed to make it easier to bundle the desktop Java Runtime Environment with Linux. Developers of several Linux packages--including Ubuntu, Gentoo and Debian--are expected to include Java with their operating systems, Sun said.

Sun has increasingly embraced open source. Last year, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company launched OpenSolaris, an open-source project for its Solaris operating system. In addition, it made a shift in its Java applications, scrapping an upfront license fee in favor of subscription-based pricing, common in open-source business models.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.