Sun Hears Java Argument

Vendor considers pleas for open-source version.

Whether or not, or how, Sun Microsystems Inc. decides to open-source Java, the company appears to be seriously considering the issue.

In addition to an impending meeting with IBM, which challenged Sun to develop an open-source implementation of Java, Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., has been in contact with open-source advocate Eric Raymond on the same issue.

Last month, Raymond also sent an open letter to Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy titled "Let Java Go." Not long afterward, Raymond said, a Sun official contacted him, and Raymond began to share his views and ideas about how Sun might better work with the open-source community regarding Java.

In an interview with eWEEK, Raymond, who is author of the classic essay "The Cathedral & the Bazaar" and co-founder and president of the Open Source Initiative, said: "One of the things Im continuing to discuss with them is a strategy whereby they open control of the source [code]. That is, they issue the Java reference implementation under an open-source license, but they keep control of the brand. They keep control of the testing, they keep control of the verification, they keep control of the certification, they retain the right to say, This and only this is Java once its passed our compliance tests and its guaranteed interoperable with everything else."

Raymond, in Malvern, Pa., said Sun has advantages with the open-source community—even above companies such as IBM, which has spent a great deal of time, money and effort working with the open-source community—because of its Unix history and its focus on engineering.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBMs general manager of e-business on demand, told eWEEK in an interview, "We have been very sensitive to be good citizens [of the open-source community]. If you want to be accepted, you have to show up with your best and brightest."

A couple of weeks after Raymond fired off his open letter to McNealy, IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., followed with an open letter from Rod Smith, IBMs vice president of emerging Internet technologies, to Rob Gingell, Suns chief engineer, vice president and fellow, saying IBM is ready to work with Sun on an open-source Java implementation.

The two companies are set to meet on the matter in the next few weeks, an IBM spokeswoman said.

"I do know that Sun is interested in Erics feedback on open-source issues in general, and we responded quickly to his letter," said a Sun official who asked not to be identified. "Sun is consulting widely on the complex and important issues surrounding open-source development."

Raymond said he believes Sun could have had an advantage over its competitors if the company had moved to open-source Java early on.

"I think not open-sourcing Java was dumb because back in 1995 and 1996, when they were putting out the idea of the whole write-once, run-anywhere thing, they put out a design that I think was a very strong design," Raymond said. "I was actually involved in the technical review of the first round of the Java documentation. I really like the language. I still like the language. Its one of the better and more credible language designs weve seen in the last 15 years." But there came a point "where [Sun] had to make a choice between ubiquity and control, and when it became clear that they were going to make the choice for control, my reaction and the reaction of a lot of developers was, Im out of here."