Sun urges Java research with new license

Java inventor James Gosling on Wednesday will unveil a new license intended to spark vigorous research into new directions for the programming technology.

Stephen Shankland
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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SAN FRANCISCO--Java inventor James Gosling on Wednesday will unveil a new license intended to spark vigorous research into new directions for the programming technology.

Sun's new Java Research License will try to strike the right balance between unfettered investigation and legal and technological protection of Java, Gosling said in an interview Tuesday at the JavaOne trade show here.

"With the Java Research License, we're trying to make things a lot more friendly to people doing academic research," Gosling said. "We're helping people to tinker and play and come up with new ideas."

The new license, to be described in Gosling's Wednesday speech to the thousands of Java enthusiasts at the show, is the latest move in Sun's long effort to encourage new Java directions while preventing splintering that would undermine one of Java's key tenets.

In an interview last week, Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Sun's software group, said the research license would "enable open-source development for research activities," but the similarities to the free-wheeling open-source movement are limited. Unlike open-source licenses, Sun's Java Research License doesn't permit commercial use of those new ideas, Gosling said.

If someone wants to take a research idea to the broader computing industry, that person will be able do so through the Java Community Process, under which Sun and its Java allies decide what new Java standards should be pursued.

Java needs a chief architect
The technology's fundamental issue
is that it needs someone to unite
the many Java standards efforts.

Java is a programming language and accompanying software called a "virtual machine" that--at least theoretically--let a program run on a different devices without having to be changed for each one. Java has been widely used on servers and is shipping on millions of mobile phones, but it's had less success on desktop computers, where Microsoft's Windows is the dominant software foundation.

Sun has gradually released its once-tight grasp of Java, letting companies have some say in the new directions the technology takes. But the Santa Clara, Calif., server seller hasn't let go of worries that Java could diverge into incompatible directions. Sun's concerns aren't theoretical: Microsoft's Windows-only extensions to Java were the heart of long legal battle between the two companies.

But Sun has been sharing more control over Java with others. It's revamped the Java Community Process several times, and another rework to make the process more open is under way.

This isn't the first time Sun has tried to spark innovation. In 1998, the company moved to share Java's underlying source code so companies could try new Java ideas without having to pay a royalty.

It's crucial that Sun keep the pipeline of new Java ideas full, Gosling said.

"It's always the unexpected that ends up being important," he said.