IBM Challenges Sun to Team on Open-Source Java

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-02-26

IBM Challenges Sun to Team on Open-Source Java

IBM Corp. on Wednesday publicly challenged Sun Microsystems Inc. to join Big Blue in developing an open-source implementation of Java.

In an open letter to Sun, IBM called the Java steward out to join it in an independent project to open-source Suns creation.

IBM vice president of emerging Internet technologies, Rod Smith, sent the letter Wednesday night to Rob Gingell, Sun chief engineer, vice president and fellow.

Citing an eWEEK article as inspiration, Smith said IBM is ready to work together with Sun on an open-source Java.

In the article Smith cited, Simon Phipps, Sun chief technology evangelist, asked: "Why hasnt IBM given its implementation of Java to the open-source community?"

Smith wrote in his letter: "Simons comment appears to be an offer to jointly work toward this common goal. IBM is a strong supporter of the open-source community, and we believe that a first class open-source Java implementation would further enhance Javas position in the industry by spurring growth of new applications and encouraging new innovation in the Java platform."

Moreover, "IBM has been calling on Sun for years to open up Java because it will spur innovation," said an IBM spokesperson. "Now IBM is throwing down the gauntlet."

Smith also said, "Suns strong commitment to open-source Java would speed the development of a first-class and compatible open-source Java implementation to the benefit of our customers and the industry. IBM is ready to provide technical resources and code for the open-source Java implementation while Sun provides the open-source community with Sun materials, including Java specifications, tests and code. We are firmly convinced the open-source community would rally around this effort and make substantial contributions as well."

Indeed, Smith said, creating an open-source Java would speed up the adoption of Java-based Web services and service-oriented architecture.

"I am convinced that the creation of an open-source implementation of the Java environment would be of enormous importance to the developer community and our industrys collective customers," Smith said in his letter. "It would open a whole world of opportunity for new applications and growth of the Java community."

Sun was unavailable for comment.

Next page: More calls for freer Java.

More Calls for Freer


Earlier this month, open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond called for Sun to open-source Java. In an open letter to Sun CEO Scott McNealy, titled "Let Java Go," Raymond called on Sun to relax its control over Java so that open-source developers could take advantage of it. Raymond took issue with McNealys comment at a recent sun event that "the open-source model is our friend."

In his letter, Raymond called Suns support for open source "curiously inconsistent" and "spotty," and said Sun is "confused." He also said of McNealys comparison of an open source model to a zero-revenue model, "You dont really know what youre talking about."

Raymond said Sun can either "have ubiquity or ... control" over Java.

"Suns insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Suns long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community," Raymond wrote in his letter of Feb. 12. "… The choice is between control and ubiquity, and despite your claim that open source is our friend Sun appears to be choosing control. Suns terms are so restrictive that Linux distributions cannot even include Java binaries for use as a browser plug-in, let alone as a standalone development tool."

Raymond said millions of open-source developers stand as potential allies to Sun and "would love to become Java developers and users if it didnt mean ceding control of their future to Sun. If youre serious about being a friend of open source, if youre serious about preparing Sun for the future we can all see coming in which code secrecy and proprietary lock-in will no longer be viable strategies, prove it. Let Java go."

At the EclipseCon conference in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this month, Red Hat Inc. Chief Technology Officer Michael Tiemann discussed the rift between Java developers and the open-source community.

Regarding the open-source and Java communities, "Its been like oil and water trying to bring those two together. Some people would rather live in a house of freedom than live in a cell with amenities," Tiemann said.

Meanwhile, Rick Ross, president of Javalobby Inc., an organization of thousands of Java developers, also wrote an open letter to Java developers. Ross letter, entitled "No Sun is an Island," also took issue with Suns control of Java.

However, Ross did not agree that Java is closed. "The source code for Java is readily available to anyone who accepts the Sun Community Source License (SCSL)," Ross wrote in his letter. "You can fix problems and submit patches to your hearts content. You can freely use the source code to better understand where problems in your own code are occurring, and you can also look to the Java source for useful examples and implementation patterns which you can emulate in your own code. Most of the technical benefits of source code availability are present to developers under the SCSL, and they are a very significant set of benefits. Furthermore, the Java Community Process (JCP) does a fine job of driving Java technology innovation in a balanced way that meets the needs and serves the interests of many vested participants. The problem definitely isnt that the source code to Java is unavailable or that the community has no voice in the platforms ongoing evolution."

Ross added: "What you cannot get from the SCSL and JCP is any reason to trust Sun regarding the disposition of the Java brand, their ultimate lever of control. I hope I am not the only one who cringes every time I hear Java described as a product of Sun Microsystems. Java has long since transcended its origins at Sun to become a globally preferred platform, an industry and a community powered by the tireless work of countless individuals and organizations. Java today is not much more a product of Sun Microsystems than the telephone is a product of AT&T. But the ownership and control of the Java brand is 100 percent firmly and resolutely in the hands of McNealy and crew, and thats why they are so utterly alone and without allies in the platform-level marketing of Java."

Indeed, "Suns over-insistence on total control of the Java brand has created a situation where nobody else is willing to help them with the general platform marketing of Java," Ross wrote. "Although this technology is useful and attractive to many strategic industry leaders, very few of them would be so naïve as to place any trust in the goodwill and beneficence of Sun Microsystems Inc."

Therefore, Ross wrote, he believes open sourcing Java is but a small piece of a larger issue.

Eric Raymond has focused on the wrong issue, Ross wrote. "Making Java open source might placate a vocal contingent in the software-development world, but it would not significantly raise consumer awareness and acceptance of our platform," Ross wrote. "I simply dont care all that much whether Java is open-sourced because I dont consider that to be the central problem. I do, however, very much want to see the Java platform more competently and competitively marketed so that this great industry and community can grow and provide all of us with a foundation for thriving prosperity."

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