Not open

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-03-08 Print this article Print

-sourcing was dumb"> And let me unpack that a little. I want to explain why I think not open-sourcing Java is dumb. Its not because of idealism. Im not here to talk about idealism. I think not open-sourcing Java was dumb because back in 1995 and 1996 when they were putting out the idea of the whole write-once, run-anywhere thing, they put out a design that I think was a very strong design. I was actually involved in the technical review of the first round of the Java documentation. I really like the language. I still like the language. Its one of the better and more credible language designs weve seen in the last 15 years. But, speaking as a developer, I dont want to be a peon on Suns plantation. So there came a point where they had to make a choice between ubiquity and control, and when it became clear that they were going to make the choice for control, my reaction and the reaction of a lot of developers out there was, "Im out of here." Right. Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer of Red Hat Inc., calls it the Java apartheid.
Yeah. And thats why I think not open-sourcing Java was dumb, because that really hurt Javas growth prospects. And it may actually have crippled it. It may actually be too late to resurrect Suns original dream. Too much water may have gone under the bridge.
Even if they open-source? Well, now we have competition from languages that can do some of the things that Java can do and are very good for rapid prototyping. My favorite Java competitor is Python. But thats not the only one. A lot more people like Perl. And youll get technical quibbles about "Theyre not the same kind of language" and blah, blah, blah. But the truth is, when you look at the whole picture from 30,000 feet, what does Java get used for? It gets used for Web plumbing. It gets used for Web services. Primarily, thats its big niche. What do Python and Perl get used for? The same thing. Technically, the way that those languages are embedded in the environment—and they differ in relatively minor ways—but from the overall functional perspective, from the perspective of where the developers are going and where Web services are growing, the ecological niches are not that different, and these languages really are competing with each other. And it may be also, the other thing thats happening because Java wasnt open-sourced is C#. Thats something else which tends to fragment that Web services-centric language space. Now if Java had open-sourced, or Sun had open-sourced Java from the beginning, I and hundreds of thousands of other programmers would have jumped on that bandwagon really happily, because we knew it was a way to get what we wanted—write once, run everywhere—without becoming peons on Suns plantation. And the language would be much bigger than it is now. And maybe theres still time for Sun to get that back. I dont know. Next page: IBMs call to Sun to work on open-source Java.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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