Our View: Open-Source Java

Opinion: It's time for Sun to finally make Java available under an open-source license.

Sun has been dithering for years on the question of making its Java software available under an open-source license. With the transition to new leadership under Jonathan Schwartz, we think now is a good time for Sun to take this long-contemplated step.

In the days leading up to the JavaOne conference May 15, Sun executives have taken up the question once again whether to take Java the open-source route. Proponents of the move draw on the precedent of Sun, at Schwartzs behest, offering its Solaris operating environment under an open-source license. That move has sparked renewed interest in Solaris, which had been facing an erosion of popularity in the face of Linux.

Thus far, Sun has been all talk and no action on open-sourcing Java. The biggest reason: Sun doesnt want to see a fork in development that would create different strains of Java. While this is a valid concern, Suns refusal to open-source Java has already prompted just such a fork, Apache Harmony, the J2SE (Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition) project of the Apache Software Foundation.

Another deterrent for Sun is its licensing agreements with Microsoft. Open-sourcing Java might put those accords in jeopardy. But Sun must think of the future, not of the past.

Suns current licensing policies have hamstrung Java as a language for development in Linux and open source, particularly on the desktop, where Microsofts .Net platform is gaining prominence through Mono, the open-source implementation from Novell. Meanwhile, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat and the rest of the open-source gang cant ship with Suns code because, while free to download, its not open and not freely redistributable.

Sun has several choices: Take Java open-source, a la Linux; try a hybrid approach, perhaps open-sourcing the code while retaining control over the Java trademark; or punt on the idea, again. We recommend either of the first two options.

Open-source software is gaining corporate traction by the minute. If Sun doesnt make a move, enterprise customers may start to dump Java just as fast as they were dumping Solaris. Besides, as a reseller of Linux, it makes sense for Sun to ensure its flagship development environment plays well in every environment it sells.

An open-source Java is sure to stimulate the interest of enterprise software developers. That would be a boon to corporate customers, who would see a wider array of application choices spring up. Sun would benefit as well. With a significant part of corporate software going the open-source route, Suns lockdown means Java risks being marginalized from corporate strategies. Besides, new CEO Schwartz needs to show hes more than Scott McNealys poodle: An open-source Java would be a win-win for the company and its customers and the kind of bold stroke Sun needs.

eWEEKs Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson, David Morgenstern, Scot Petersen and Matthew Rothenberg.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.