Commercially viable open

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

-sourcing"> I can tell you that one of the courses that I have recommended to Sun in public in the past—and one of the things Im continuing to discuss with them, though Ill carefully not tell you anything about their end of this—one of the things Im continuing to discuss with them is a strategy whereby they open control of the source. That is, they issue the Java reference implementation under an open-source license, but they keep control of the brand. They keep control of the testing, they keep control of the verification, they keep control of the certification, they retain the right to say this and only this is Java once its passed our compliance tests and its guaranteed interoperable with everything else. And I can tell you for sure and certain that a model in which the reference implementation was open-sourced and was being collaborated on by Sun and the entire open-source community, but on another level Sun retains the brand and the exclusive right to call the results Java and collects its value from that, that is a model that the open-source community would be totally happy with. Wed be completely down with that. Ive been interested in this shift, particularly in terms of government procurements where there seems to be a subtle move from calling for open-source support to open-standards support. Have you noticed this? Whats your take on the whole issue of open standards versus open source?
I would say this: If it doesnt have an open-source reference implementation, the term "standard" is an abuse of the language.
Thats still a very strong position by todays standards. But it wont be in three to five years. If it doesnt have an open-source implementation, how do you know what the standard means? Theres a technical level to this, and theres a political level. The technical level is that standards always under-specify things. You never learn everything you need to know from reading a standards document. There are always assumptions and stuff that slip in, and you need to go to a reference implementation to compare your behavior with that to be sure that youre conformant with reality as opposed to the theory of the standard. So for that technical reason, if it doesnt have an open-source reference implementation, where are you? Youre stuck. Youre at the mercy of the vendor again. It might as well not be a standard at all. So I would say the attempt by some—in particular Microsoft—to drive a wedge between open source and open standards, its a con game. But its working. Ive seen it in RFPs. Its a con game. Yeah, well, I think thats something youre going to see open-source advocates like myself addressing more forcefully in the future. Next page: Open source vs. open standards and all the mixes in between.

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.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel