Suns Schwartz Opens Up About Open-Source Java

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-05-16

Suns Schwartz Opens Up About Open-Source Java

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz said he is a huge fan of open source and of lowering the barriers to entry for developers and customers across the world.

He also believes that position does not contrast with where the Santa Clara, Calif., company is headed with Java.

"We have open-sourced the server with Glass Fish and we have made the code available on the desktop, it has just not been under and OSI (Open Source Initiative)-approved license. But the code has been available and we have been accepting community contributions for a while now," he said.

"My personal belief is that we need to continue to invest in the community and in the licenses and conventions that are well accepted by the community. In so doing, we will grow the market and the value of the Java platform. This will in no way diminish it," he said.

Microsoft has decided not to seek OSI-approval for its newest Shared Source licenses. Click here to read more.

Asked if Sun felt having an OSI-approved license for its products was important, Schwartz said the fact that those licenses were important to developers made it important to Sun. If Sun went down the path of open-source licensing Java, it would use an OSI-approved license, he added.

"I am a big fan of the GPL and have been for a long while, but I also believe that some licensees want the ability to separate their own intellectual property.

The CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) is open to every other license while the GPL (GNU General Public License) is not. One is not better than the other, they just appeal to different audiences," Schwartz said.

He pointed to the momentum around OpenSolaris over the past 12 months as a case in point, with Sun distributing nearly 5 million licenses for the operating system over that time. This was the largest single year for operating system deployments in Suns 20-plus year history, he said.

"The revenue associated with Solaris has also risen dramatically because of this, so the two are not in conflict," Schwartz said.

Many of the calls for Sun to open Java from people in the open-source community were attempts to drive some controversy and get some attention for a company or an individual.

These claims were countered by as many calls from the other side saying that Sun should never offer Java under the GPL (GNU General Public License) and should never open-source it so as to prevent the tipping effect that has happened with other open-source activities.

Next Page: The upside of open-sourcing Java.

The Upside of Open

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"So, I am not worried about the impact of open-sourcing Java. I think that there is more upside and opportunities than there is downside, but I also understand that we have to respect the wishes of the Java community and not make a decision just because one or two or three individuals want to go and grandstand," Schwartz said.

Often misunderstood in the Java world is that there were two very separate activities that took place: one of them was that code was created, like Glass Fish, while the other, which was also extremely important, was the JCP (Java Community Process), the standards setting body, refined the specifications so that everyone could implement against it.

"No one has ever done that effectively in the open-source world yet, and we need to make sure that when and if we decide to open-source Java we are deeply respectful of the compatibility that has created the community that we see at the JavaOne show," Schwartz said.

Read more here about how some former Sun executives have called for Java to be open-sourced.

Asked if he agreed with the notion that Sun should rely on trademark law to prevent compatibility and other issues and then let Java flourish in the open-source environment, Schwartz said that he mostly agreed, but added that the tipping effect was a fact of life in the software world.

Sun has been very interested in driving Java as a dynamic platform that embraces innovation and does not shy away from it, he said, which is why it has incorporated effective support for PHP and Ruby and Perl and Python and is why it would continue to drive NetBeans as a developer platform that extended into non-traditional environments.

Asked why he thought Sun had been so harshly criticized by Wall Street for not monetizing Java, which then prompted open-source supporters to claim that opening Java would enable Sun to monetize the technology further, Schwartz said that Sun needs to be careful to foster the community that drives new market opportunities for Java.

"I want to make sure that Java continues to be a fountain for the community and not a water balloon that just breaks on the ground," he said.

Asking Sun how it made money on Java is like asking Google how it made money on search. Consumers paid nothing for it, but that enabled a market for them to create and foster.

"That is exactly how we look at Java: it simply standardizes the interactions between disparate systems to enable everyone to participate," Schwartz said.

Sun had a responsibility to appeal to as broad and diverse a set of constituencies as possible and could closely follow the model Sun had used with Solaris and creating OpenSolaris, he said, adding that there were differences though.

One was that Solaris had, unlike Java, never been the subject of a lawsuit, while the desktop market was far less competitive than the server space as one company (Microsoft) held some 90 percent share of that market, Schwartz said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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