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IBM Prods Sun to Open Up Java

A high-ranking IBM official has offered to work with Sun Microsystems on a project to open-source Java , a move that could unify the development community over the programming language.

Reacting to a comment made by Sun's Chief Technology Evangelist Simon Phipps at a developer conference, Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technologies of IBM Software, called for Sun's participation in an independent project to free the language from its proprietary bindings.

Earlier this month at the EcipseCon show for Eclipse, a group formerly led by IBM whose goal is to promote Java software tools development, Phipps said he believed Java was already open-sourced and questioned why IBM doesn't offer its own open-source iteration of Java.

"Simon's comment appears to be an offer to jointly work toward this common goal," Smith wrote. "IBM is a strong supporter of the open source community, and we believe that a first class open source Java implementation would further enhance Java's position in the industry by spurring growth of new applications and encouraging new innovation in the Java platform."

Smith said IBM is ready to provide technical resources and code for open source Java implementation and called for Sun to provide the open source community with Java specifications, tests and code.

Calling the letter an invitation, not a demand, Bob Sutor, director of marketing for WebSphere Foundation Software at IBM, said that because Java is only open-sourced on an ad-hoc basis, a unified, more formal group is needed.

"We're willing to put our money where our mouth is," Sutor told internetnews.com, regarding the offer to commit resources to the effort. "We know Sun has resources available as well, but this isn't just about Sun and IBM -- anyone can join."

Sutor suggested it could be modeled after the Linux movement, noting that several parties work in harmony to develop the new Linux 2.6 kernel and test for compatibility.

A Sun spokesperson declined to comment on IBM's invitation.

Phipps' thrown gauntlet at the meeting of developer mind share in Anaheim, Calif., is indicative of the reticence both IBM and Sun have exhibited in the last several months over making concessions regarding the formerly IBM-led Eclipse consortium and the competing NetBeans development group spearheaded by Sun.

IBM, who has been asking Sun to open up Java for years, has been trying to get Sun to join Eclipse. Conversely, Sun has petitioned for Eclipse to join NetBeans and the Java Community Process, which sets the standards for Java in the industry.

Smith's response is testament to the stubbornness and strong wills of both companies on the issue surrounding Java unity. On the one hand, opening up Java would be welcomed by developers. On the other, both IBM and Java steward Sun regard the language as vital to their software success and appear reluctant to risk tipping the scales in the other's favor.

The situation has developed into a paradox that must be somewhat painful to both companies, which tout open standards, and by extension, the inclusion of everyone willing to work toward common goals in Java development.

Smith acknowledges as such in his proposal: "Sun's strong commitment to open source Java would speed the development of a first class and compatible open source Java implementation to the benefit of our customers and the industry.

"I am convinced that the creation of an open source implementation of the Java environment would be of enormous importance to the developer community and our industry's collective customers," Smith continued. "It would open a whole world of opportunity for new applications and growth of the Java community.

Smith concluded that open-sourcing Java would ramp up the creation and adoption of Web services and service oriented architectures, which both IBM and Sun have claimed as keys to software success in the future.

Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady said that although the benefits to the community were outlined in Smith's note, he questioned how Sun might benefit because the open-source world has already given back to Java.

"But also, I thought the letter lacked necessary specifics on what portions should be open sourced, what terms they should be opened under, etc.," O'Grady told internetnews.com. "Is open source Java something to be rejected out of hand as impossible? Hardly. But it needs to be of benefit to both the community and Sun to be considered."