In response to an open letter from IBM asking Sun Microsystems Inc. to join the company in developing an open-source version of Java, Sun plans to meet with IBM to discuss the issue, Sun sources said.
Sun officials planned to meet with IBM as early as Thursday to discuss the merits of whether the company should work with IBM on an independent project to create an open-source implementation of Java.
According to Sun, the company is in agreement with IBMs letter in many ways—and over the last two years Sun has made “significant” Java contributions to open source through The Apache Group; portions of the XML processing engine, through the Web Pack contribution last year; and the Java 2 Enterprise Edition processing engine known as Tomcat. “Sun is closely evaluating the effectiveness of the process,” a Sun spokesperson said.
Sun said it will make an official statement about IBMs offer later on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Bob Sutor, IBMs director of WebSphere Infrastructure Software, in an interview with eWEEK, said, “We need an absolutely official open-source implementation of Java.”
Sutor said IBM is not trying to change things right away. “Were trying to walk before we run on this,” he said. “Were not looking for the world on Day One.”
But what IBM is offering is “to put people on this and to donate source code.”
Sutor said IBM has proven its open-source mettle with its experience with the Eclipse open-source Java-based development platform, its success with Linux, and work the company has done with Apache.
In addition, Sutor said an open-source Java implementation will spur innovation and help generate revenue for developers. “This would be a boon for Linux,” he said. “If every Linux distribution had a full implementation of Java, it would spur innovation. The money is not in this base-level plumbing, its in what you add on top.”
When asked whether IBM would be as willing to create open-source versions of its OS/390 or z/OS, Sutor said: “Were not suggesting Sun open source its directory software or proprietary stuff. Java is already in the JCP [Java Community Process]. It is already a community process that many people have contributed to. Its a mistake to look at it as though Sun is the sole author, and this is not any of their proprietary products.”
Moreover, on the issue of Sun ceding control of Java should an open-source implementation surface, Sutor said: “Theyll have less control, but they speak very highly of Linux,” noting that Linux is not controlled by any one vendor but many benefit from it. “This is the logical next step in progressing the platform.”
IBMs vice president of emerging Internet technologies, Rod Smith, sent the letter Wednesday night to Rob Gingell, Suns chief engineer, vice president and fellow.
Citing an eWEEK article as inspiration (see “Sun: Secret Negotiations on Eclipse Continue”), Smith said IBM is ready to work together with Sun on an open-source Java.
In the article Smith cited, Simon Phipps, Suns chief technology evangelist, asked: “Why hasnt IBM given its implementation of Java to the open-source community?”
Wrote Smith 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.”
Rick Ross, president of Javalobby Inc., of Cary, N.C., an association of Java developers with more than 100,000 members, said, “On the surface, Rods reply indicates a clear willingness on IBMs behalf to invest in an independent, open-source Java implementation that would benefit everyone”
Ross said the move could have benefits for Java developers.
“One, if an independent, certifiably compatible implementation of the Java core libraries is available, then third parties can focus on competitive performance enhancements in the VM [virtual machine],” Ross said. “Two, the barriers to Java being distributed as part of standard Linux distributions would be lowered. And three, Sun competitors who are presently unwilling to invest in the Java platform would finally be able to view Java as a platform that is independent of Sun, rather than as Suns tool.”