Open-Source Growing Pains Give Sun Aches

Is Sun Microsystems Inc. as much a friend to open source as it claims to be?

Is Sun Microsystems Inc. as much a friend to open source as it claims to be?

Late last year Sun amended its Java Community Process (JCP) program to accommodate demands of the open-source community and enable organizations to license the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) compatibility test suite without licensing the source code, which was formerly the case. But the Atlanta-based JBoss Group LLC, the first organization to which Sun has offered the new amended licensing, is crying foul.

Rick Scaletta, group manager of J2EE licensing at Sun, acknowledged that Sun so far has only offered the revised licensing scheme to JBoss—for licensing the compatibility test suite for the upcoming next version of J2EE, known as J2EE 1.4. However, JBoss is balking at the deal, and Sun is making noise about it. The JBoss Group develops and maintains the open-source JBoss Java application server.

However, observers say the overall issue is bigger than Sun and JBoss and is more an issue of what happens when an open-source application grows up and developers begin trying to comercialize a technology. At an open-source conference in Washington last week, Jason Matusow, program manager for Microsoft Corp.s Shared Source Initiative, said that in his view, open-source software vendors are largely looking to commercialize open-source software in some way. And Microsoft makes no bones about it: the company will not soon support open-source software but will coexist with it.

Meanwhile, Sun officials said JBoss is competing unfairly with the rest of the J2EE community by selling its product without getting certified "and are at risk of splitting the Java community," a company source said. According to some inside Sun, there appears to be "an opinion that thinks because JBoss Group is associated with open source they are exempt from normal rules."

Ronald Schmelzer, president of ZapThink LLC, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research firm, said, "Maybe Sun has a point here—that JBoss cant have both ends of the stick. However, the problem is that it shows that Java as an open technology is really extending beyond the reach of Sun. They will have to find some way to rein in the forces that conspire to pull it apart. Either it will have to be a third-party organization with teeth, or it will have to be Sun—at the expense of openness."

Added Schmelzer: "Sun needs to beware that they dont fall into the same trap they accuse Microsoft and IBM of setting. Coercing partners into licensing suites for open technologies is similar to what they are accusing Microsoft et al. would do for royalties on SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol]. If a technology is really open, it should not be possible for any one vendor to force any other vendor to do anything for the benefit of that vendor."

Yet, Sun says its work with the Apache Foundation, a key force in the open-source movement, and JCP 2.5, the upgraded process designed to accommodate open-source initiatives, are evidence of its commitment to the open-source community. Sun portrays the situation as a typical licensing deal, JBoss says Sun is trying to force its hand, and although both parties say they are working on striking a deal, it appears both are comfortable negotiating in the press, sources said.