Sun reluctant to make Java open source

The company's top software executive calls IBM's proposal to make Java open source "weird" and says it would encourage incompatible standards.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
4 min read
BOSTON--Sun Microsystems is reluctant to make Java source code available through an open-source model because it would encourage incompatible versions of the software, Sun's top software executive said.

During a press briefing here Tuesday, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president of software, indicated that the company is not inclined to take up IBM's offer to work with Sun to make Java technology open source because of concerns over compatibility.

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Schwartz and other Sun executives also revealed details on the company's product plans, including upcoming Linux and Windows versions of the Java Enterprise System, more closely linked security products, and a management console for converting Microsoft Office macros to the Java Desktop System. Sun confirmed plans to offer per citizen pricing for its bundles of Java software to countries in developing nations.

Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technology, last month sent an e-mail, which was distributed to the press, to Sun Vice President Rob Gingell urging Sun to make Java open source. IBM executives said that making at least a portion of Java software open source would help make Java easier to distribute with Linux and would generally promote its usage among developers.

An IBM representative said last week that the company was hoping to meet in the next few weeks with Sun to discuss the matter. Schwartz on Tuesday said that the two companies are in ongoing discussions but have yet to talk over IBM's proposal.

Schwartz said the general public license (GPL) that governs many open-source applications encourages "forking," or a divergence among the different distributions of the software. He cited the example of Red Hat becoming the de facto distributor of open-source operating system Linux in North America.

"Java is the antithesis of forking. It's about compatibility. That compatibility is of supreme importance," Schwartz said.

He said that Sun does not want to re-create a situation in which there are different and incompatible versions of Java, as is the case with Linux. "We're not going to repeat the mistakes we've seen in the past," he said in an interview with CNET News.com on Monday.

Schwartz also noted that people who stick to Sun's licensing terms and maintain compatibility with Sun standards can have access to the Java source code. Changing the licensing to an open-source model would encourage different implementations, he said.

"If IBM wants to allow incompatible implementations, I've seen that movie. It's called 'Microsoft licenses Java from Sun.' It forked the Java community, set us back years, and is now the subject of intense antitrust litigation. I'm not going to let that happen," Schwartz said, who called IBM's request "kind of weird."

By ensuring compatibility through the Java standardization process, Sun intends to ensure that developers can write a Java application and have it run on many different operating systems and devices, he said.

On Wednesday, IBM said it is committed to maintaining Java compatibility and asserts that this can be achieved in an open-source development model. The company pointed to existing open-source projects, such as Tomcat, which drive adoption of Java programming while maintaining adherence to standards. "With Sun's support, an open-source Java will increase the adoption of Java and maintain compatibility," IBM said in a statement.

What's in store for Java
At the press briefing on Tuesday, Sun executives said the company plans to release a Linux edition of its Java Enterprise System in the next 60 days. Sun charges $100 per employee per year to use the product, which is a bundle of Java server software. Windows and HP-UX versions of the Java Enterprise System are expected to be completed by the end of the year, executives said.

The company also is adding in remote diagnostics capabilities that will allow Sun, with a customer's permission, to fix problems over the Internet. Early diagnostic tools are already in version 2 of the Java Enterprise System and will be expanded over the course of the year, said Steven Borcich, executive director of Java enterprise system and security.

Borcich said that in the next 60 days Sun will detail how it plans to meld its current identity management products with the software it gained from its acquisition of Waveset Technologies. Ultimately, the identity management software will be integrated with Sun's N1 Grid technology to allow companies to provision resources, such as bandwidth or processing capacity, based on groups of people within companies, he said.

By the end of the year, Sun will release enterprise and standard editions of the Java Application Server 8, server software that is a component of the Java Enterprise System. Version 8 uses the Java 2 Enterprise Edition 1.4 specification, which allows companies to run Web services applications.

In April, Sun will begin an early evaluation process for its Java Studio Creator product, a Java programming tool aimed at rapid creation of Web applications.

Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java Web services and tools, said that Sun has had some discussion with the newly formed board of Eclipse about the open-source development project's work with the Java Tools Community. He said that Sun wants to better understand Eclipse's goals and is waiting to name an executive director before renewing any discussion regarding Sun's participation in Eclipse.