Sun to Open-Source Java ME

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-08-15

Sun to Open-Source Java ME

Sun Microsystems plans to open-source its implementation of the Java ME specification and is shooting to have that done by the end of this year, Sun executives said Aug. 14.

This is the first time Sun has said publicly that Java ME (Java Platform, Micro Edition) is part of its plan for open-sourcing Java.

Until now the company has said that it is working on open-sourcing its implementation of the Java SE (Java Platform, Standard Edition) specification, also known as JDK.

Sun also announced the launch of a new Web site that gives information about its plans to open-source its Java SE implementation—the JDK—as well as news, opinions, blogs and a discussion forum.

"Java ME will be included in open-source Java. We are working through the process and the complications that come with this, in parallel with Java SE. But we plan to be very transparent about the whole process," Alan Brenner, the vice president of Suns mobile and embedded group, said at a media event ahead of the annual LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 15 to Aug. 17.

Open-source Java? Not if, but how. Click here to read more.

There are a range of benefits from open-sourcing Java ME, not the least of which is increasing the participation in the embedded development space, said Brenner. "We believe we can drive a more robust and active community around the next generation of applications in this space by open-sourcing Java ME," he said.

With regard to Java SE, Sun plans to open-source two pieces of code by the end of this year—Java C (the Java Compiler) and the HotSpot virtual machine—with the bulk of the rest of the code likely to follow in early 2007, Laurie Tolsen, the vice president of developer products and programs at Sun, said at the event.

"We are pretty sure that we have all the rights to release these as independent packages that can be run as stand-alone technologies," she told eWEEK in an interview.

While some of the Java code would only be made available in binary form, it would be fully buildable, she said, noting that "there is some Java code that we do not own the rights to and thus cannot release it as open source, such as the Font Rastarizer technology."

The font rasterizer-like technologies that are currently available as open-source software are not as sophisticated as that currently in Java, but Sun could initially release this as binary code and then replace it with an open-source solution if that becomes available later, she said.

While Sun says it is committed to using an OSI (Open Source Initiative)-approved license for Open Java, it has not yet decided on which one. It is considering the GNU GPL (General Public License); the CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), under which Open Solaris is licensed; as well as a possible multilicense strategy, but that is less appealing due to the complexity it would add, Tolsen said.

The process of open-sourcing Java is very different from that of Solaris as there is a thriving Java community and it is a completely different ecosystem. "As such, there are different requirements for the license," she said.

Next Page: Governance is under discussion.


Mark Reinhold, the chief engineer for Java SE at Sun, told eWEEK that the governance model for the open-source Java is also under discussion and that no decisions have been made in this regard.

Unlike Solaris, where discussions on the governance model are ongoing, more than a year after its release, Sun is unlikely to release an open-source Java without a governance model in place.

Click here to read more about the OpenSolaris board.

That is because of the large Java community that already exists, as well as to address the concerns of many in the community about the stability and compatibility of the platform going forward, he said.

"We know that forks will happen and many of us are fine with that, while others are getting used to the idea," Reinhold said.

Ever since it announced its plans to open-source Java on May 16, Sun has said it will work with—and look to—the community to determine how best to do that.

In an interview with eWEEK after that announcement, Rich Green, executive vice president for software at Sun, said that he was hearing from developers that they did not want Sun to rush the process and not maintain compatibility.

"So we will watch that closely. The plan moving forward is the attraction and use and scale of the NetBeans community, as we know that if developers are using NetBeans to write applications, [the applications] will be compatible, so that is a big deal," Green said at that time.

Simon Phipps, Suns chief open-source officer, has also said that while there is no inherent discontinuity with making Java open source and keeping the technology compatible, the community will have to remain vigilant in this regard.

"I do not think anyone wants to break Java compatibility, but any of the large licensees with the market power to distribute their own version technically could do so, intentionally or unintentionally," he said.

Read more here about why open-sourcing Java will create an incompatibility risk.

The open-sourcing of Java has been well-received by some developers. "I think this is a great, albeit long overdue, move on Suns part. I am impressed that they are taking feedback and making changes. The easy thing to have done would have been to do nothing," Peter Yared, the co-founder of San Francisco-based ActiveGrid and a former Sun executive, told eWEEK.

In his address to the media on Aug. 14, Suns Green said its storage software group had been recently moved into the Solaris organization "and the hint here is that Solaris will increasingly be used as a platform for our servers and systems and also as the platform for network storage devices, which will be an enormous opportunity for Sun. So stay tuned," he said.

Sun still plans to open-source its entire software stack over time, Green said—a promise that has often been made by senior executives, including CEO Jonathan Schwartz—adding that open source was good for its business.

"It also just makes our stuff better. Transparency is what we are all about and we are trying to make more transparent and visible to the marketplace, and software is part of that. Were not there yet, but were well on the road to getting there on the open front," he concluded.

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

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