Dont Fear the Fork

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-03-29 Print this article Print

Dont Fear the Fork

So far, Sun seems unconvinced about the merits of opening Java, citing fear that an open-source Java would be vulnerable to forking, or splitting into multiple incompatible implementations.

Sun is still smarting from its Java battles with Microsoft, which attempted to subvert Java with Windows-specific extensions, and Suns afraid that a powerful vendor like IBM might likewise splinter Java for its own purposes.

I think Suns fears of forking are overblown, and these fears underestimate how important Java compatibility is to customers and, by extension, to other Java vendors.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Suns software group, points to Linux as an example of forking in the open-source world, but the Linux kernel has actually proved fork-resistant. While its true that there are many different Linux distributions, each runs a kernel from the same project.

Its also true that binaries packaged for Red Hat Enterprise Linux may not work properly on Debian or another Linux distribution. However, the work required to repackage a piece of software to move from one Linux distribution to another isnt so different in scale from the work now required to move a J2EE application from one application server to another.

Far from sounding the death knell for Java compatibility, a freer Java would allow for greater compatibility among Java implementations, particularly in places where current license restrictions force projects to turn to hacks and workarounds, as with and Eclipse.

If Sun were to release a portion of its Java code—such as Java Runtime Environment and J2SE—under a dual license, similar to what Sun does with StarOffice and or what Trolltech does with Qt, Sun could maintain control of the Java brand and remain the final voice on what is Java—much as Linus Torvalds does with the Linux kernel.

By moving Java into open source, Sun would broaden the platforms reach and help cement Java as a development language for open-source software—both of which will boost the value of Java to Sun and to the rest of the technology community.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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