Sun Mulls Its Next Java Moves

Open source is on tap, but more details need to be ironed out.

As Sun Microsystems ponders its next steps on the road to open-sourcing Java, it is acutely aware of the concern among developers and customers that compatibility be maintained going forward.

"Developers tell us that while open-sourcing Java would be nice, they dont want us to rush the process and [not maintain compatibility]. So we will watch that closely," said Rich Green, executive vice president for software at Sun, during an interview with eWEEK at the annual JavaOne conference here May 16.

At the conference, Sun said taking Java open source is a matter of how, not when.

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.

Sun will also be counting the number of downloads of core Java technologies such as Java EE (Java Platform, Enterprise Edition).

"We will count that and get a sense of repeat use. We will monitor the discussion areas to get a sense of the feedback, and we will count the number of members and participants in the JCP [Java Community Process] and so get a sense of scale and stickiness there," Green said.

The level of involvement with the JCP was an indicator of the desire to maintain compatibility, Green said.

The act of open-sourcing and licensing was "trivial. It is the measures that give us the confidence that developers and customers will be fulfilled with regard to their desire for compatibility," Green said.

While open-sourcing Java does, indeed, have value for some parts of the Java and open-source communities, such as the Linux distributions where the current license is the obstacle to further scalability, the needs and wishes of the community members that have brought the technology to where it is today will be listened to very closely, he said.

"I am more trusting in the masses and their means of evaluating motivation, which will give us some direction about who to listen to more closely," Green said. There has been some concern from the outside that the process was not necessarily being driven by individuals, which was why Sun opened up the JCP for individual access, he said.

"We want to see it being driven more by individuals and not by brand names or stock ticker symbols, and while we are open to talking to and discussing this with lots of different parties, Id rather give out my e-mail address to the Java community at large and ask them for their feedback," Green said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read more about open-sourcing Java, click here.

The news has been well-received by 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.

One of the recurring concerns within Sun with regard to open-sourcing Java in the past has been that a large company such as IBM, with its huge financial resources, could out-market Sun and essentially take hold of Java and run with it.

But Peder Ulander, Suns senior vice president for software marketing, said the fear of being outmarketed and outspent by a competitor was not an issue, as people wanted to work with the innovators and the drivers behind the technology.

For its part, IBM, which is one of Suns harshest critics and fiercest competitors but also a sometime partner, has welcomed the Santa Clara, Calif., companys commitment to fully open-sourcing Java. Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technology at IBM, in Somers, N.Y., told eWEEK that the company applauded Suns action to commit to open-sourcing Java, as the technology could thrive from collaborative innovation.

"For more than 10 years, Java has grown in popularity, but the rate and pace of innovation had been limited by the degree of openness Sun was then willing to embrace," Smith said.

Asked what the timeline for open-sourcing Java will be, Green said Sun and the open-source community will analyze the issue to determine a date. "Then well just go and do it. Putting a stake in the ground and saying were going to do x by y, this just isnt one of those things," he said.

Green declined to be pinned down further on a time frame, quipping when asked if this will be a multiyear process that it will certainly not be a multidecade one, "so weve already narrowed it down for you."

On the licensing front and after Sun faced a barrage of criticism when it shunned the GNU GPL (General Public License) and created its own CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) for OpenSolaris, Green said that he has not ruled out the GPL for Java but that it is too early to give a definitive answer on that.

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