The Open Conversation

The Java debate calls attention to the open-source model.

Its JavaOne time again this week in San Francisco, and for once its an apt title. Is Java one, or is it a train wreck waiting to happen in grand Unix Balkanization style? Framed in the usual debate between the open-source and open-standards crowds, Java is commonly portrayed as a proprietary wedge struggling for relevance and revenue against the righteous and inevitable triumph of free software.

Less religiously, the struggle is between the power of compatibility and the momentum of innovation. IBM and BEA argue that the Java Community Process slows things too much, while Sun counters that the JCP is all that stands between Java and the forces of monopoly and lock-in. In this maelstrom stands Suns new president and chief operating officer, Jonathan Schwartz, who seems to relish his role rather than be perplexed by the apparent impossibility of a resolution. However, he may have hit on the realization that the debate itself is Suns core asset.

"Open source is a means of engaging a community," Schwartz said, noting that Suns vehicle for engagement is the JCP. "For the dominant majority of Java developers, the JCP has been a wonderful aligning force that has enabled us to move at a much more rapid pace than even Microsoft." He ticked off the wins: J2EE 1.4s Web services, Javas strength in mobile handsets and Javas inroads into set-top boxes.

"The problem for some of the vendors is the open-source movement is actually causing them competition," Schwartz said. "I see a pretty significant uptake of the J2EE reference implementation in JBoss, and I see [IBM] is having an increasingly difficult time raising [WebSpheres] price ... and delivering new technologies that the JCP has not ratified."

But Schwartz said he blames the market for IBMs slow progress. "Customers are pushing back on them, saying, I rely upon having these standards so that I can substitute another product for yours if Im dissatisfied with your pricing, licensing or support model."

This isnt music to Big Blues ears, nor does it warm Red Hats heart. Schwartz said he thinks developers have more opportunity with an open-source Solaris than what he calls Red Hats exclusive lock on enterprise Linux. Skip the Red Hat kernels load management issues, Schwartz suggested, and leverage Solaris scalability to move up the stack and focus on quality of service and service-level policy management issues.

"The very fact that were engaging in the dialogue has been pretty disruptive" in a good sense, Schwartz said. "Its clearly absorbed a lot of time and attention thats driven awareness of the Java platform and, better yet, thats driven awareness of the open-community model that we already use." He described that as, "basically, the Apache model being driven by a commercial enterprise."

And so the Great Debate continues. So hopes Jonathan Schwartz.

Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. He can be reached at

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