When Sun Microsystems announced Nov. 13 that it was releasing all versions of Java (Standard, Enterprise and Micro editions) under GNU GPL Version 2.0, the company did more than put to rest nagging questions about its open-source intentions for Java; it raised open-source software to a new level of significance for large enterprises. Coming just two weeks after Microsoft and Novell signed an accord over Windows-SUSE Linux interoperability, Suns move puts an exclamation point on a key phase in the evolution of open source in the enterprise.
IT professionals looking for a dramatic event will be disappointed. There is no lightning bolt after which software becomes free. But the results of Suns move will be significant and far-reaching.
Open-source enthusiasts, as one might expect, welcomed the move, but others, including intellectual property lawyers and Suns commercial customers, also were upbeat. Well add our voice to the chorus. Sun is to be commended for completing a painstaking process that included poring over 6 million lines of code to check for prior licenses in the approximately six months since Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said publicly that open-source Java was on the way.
Sun will offer a menu of licenses, including its commercial license and its CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), mainly for customers that have already built systems based on previous contracts. That also is a plus: As multiple license types contend in the marketplace, customers will decide what works best for them. Sun officials said they expect a new community to form around Java SE called Open JDK.
Because Java can be incorporated into other GNU GPL (General Public License) software, the move can only increase the ubiquity of Java—which is good for Sun as well as for customers. And by allowing improvements to the source code thanks to the open-source process, the quality of Java should increase—also good for customers.
But perhaps most important, Sun is setting an example for other big software makers to follow. The progress of open-source Java in the next year or so will be followed closely by the software industry. If the results are positive all around, we could see other vendors following suit.
We believe Suns open-source Java is a milestone that marks what is yet an early stage in the era of open-source software in the enterprise. We look forward to what might come next.
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eWEEKs Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Peter Coffee, Stan Gibson, Scot Petersen and David Weldon.
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