SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Although it may get some disagreement from IBM, SourceForge.com and Linus Torvalds, Sun Microsystems laid claim to being the worlds largest contributor to the open-source software community Nov. 13 by turning over millions of lines of Java code to the governance of the GNU General Public License, v2.0.
And not a moment too soon for software developers worldwide and some of their more well-known open-source spokespeople, including Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman, publisher Tim OReilly and intellectual property attorney and professor Eben Moglen.
“This is less about the code itself than it is about building volume in the network effort: The more people that join a network, the more valuable the network gets,” Sun President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz told a gathering of Sun employees and guests in the auditorium of the companys Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters.
“Its like what happened to the fax machine, cell phones and the Internet connectivity: Were going to build volume—more developers, more devices, more businesses, more of everything—based on giving this code to the community,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz noted that there have been 6 million licensed open Solaris downloads since Sun open-sourced its homegrown, Unix-based operating system in Q1 2005; 4 billion devices—mostly Java-enabled mobile phones—that use some form of Java; and 5 million-plus Java developers roaming the Earth.
“Few folks, at least outside of Sun, understand how pervasively successful the Java platform, and the community supporting it, have been over the past decade,” Schwartz wrote in his blog.
“But Java runs on more devices than Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris, Symbian and the Mac combined. Nearly 4 billion devices at this point, from smart cards to consumer devices, DVD players to set top boxes, medical equipment, all the way up into the majority of the worlds transactional systems and 8 out of every 10 cell phones sold. The Java platform is, already, a global standard.”
The net result of all this: Weve had a remarkable resurgence at Sun the last couple of years, Schwartz said.
“Our revenues are way up, our customer numbers are up. This [open-source Java] will greatly enhance all four of our businesses—software, systems, storage and services. More participation [from the development community] means a rising tide of innovation, and a rising tide lifts all boats in the ocean,” Schwartz said.
Java creator James Gosling, a Sun research fellow who is out on medical leave following minor surgery, wrote in his blog Nov. 13: “Im really happy that after months of arguing and analysis, we finally agreed on using the GPL version 2 with the classpath exception as the license for JavaSE.
“Were also taking the first couple of baby steps in getting actual source code relicensed. All of it will follow, eventually. But theres a lot of work to do … “
During the last two weeks, Sun interviewed and videotaped reaction to the forthcoming news from Stallman, OReilly, Moglen and a few others. The video endorsements were shown to the audience Nov. 13.
“This is a very good move for Sun, making the Java code and process transparent,” Stallman, who is not given to using superlatives, said.
“The old [Java] licensing restrictions will be a thing of the past. Sun, with this major addition to the open-source community, is showing its leadership, and I hope others will follow this example.”
Moglen, a Columbia University law professor who as serves general counsel of Stallmans Free Software Foundation, said that having Java in all its editions is an “extraordinary vote of confidence” by Sun of the open-source community.
“Sun is sharing some very valuable and important products—that it has created with its own resources—with the open-source community. We are so glad that they are sharing these products with us under these rules [the GPL v2],” Moglen said.
Sun vice president of software Rich Green said “there is value in volume. With this move to open-source Java, we will be seeing new content, new interest and more innovation.”
Sun is unique in that “we are the only company with this kind of business model, one that threads the needle in this manner,” Green said.
“We are the creator of IP, not the licensee. We own clean and powerful IP; we make sure [the software] is scrubbed clean before we donate it to the community.”
The biggest challenges in switching to the open-source model, Green said, are all about transparency.
“How do you operate completely in the public view, and still get all the development done?” he asked rhetorically. “We also need to be sure that all that work outside of Sun is organized and productive.”
Green did leave Sun an “out,” as far as development of any more proprietary software is concerned.
When asked if Sun would ever consider doing some “custom” software development for a client who didnt particularly want to use open-source software, Green replied that “this, of course, is not our intent … but I would have to leave in the possibility that this could happen. But, again, this is not our intent.”
The Java Community Process, which has governed all of Javas development up to now, was mentioned by Green as a group that still “matters greatly” in the future development of Java—despite the fact that each Java edition (Standard, Enterprise, and Micro Edition) will have its own open-source community running it.
“Compatibility is the core value proposition Java has always had, and it remains so,” Green said. “JCP will maintain that watchdog role.”
This whole changeover is simply “a new feedback cycle,” Schwartz said.
“We are the only company that has embraced open-source community as more than an opportunity to write press releases,” Schwartz said.
“There is definitely a rising tide here, but there also is a growing number of proprietary companies that are fighting freedom, and I wouldnt want to be on the wrong side of that battle.”
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