RealTime IT News

Critics Call For Open Java

SAN FRANCISCO -- Representatives of the open source community staged an intervention Thursday, pleading with Sun Microsystems to relinquish some of its control of Java.

The issue for the open source community boils down to two things: the speed with which Java development is moving and the price that Sun must expense in order to provide certified compatibility.

Reminiscent of his open letter earlier this year to Sun, IBM Software vice president of Emerging Technologies, Rod Smith asked Java creator James Gosling and Java Community Process (JCP) Chairman Rob Gingell to work on an independent project to open source Java and speed up the development process. The question has been reverberated by members of other open source communities, including Apache, Linux, as well as with scripting languages Perl and PHP.

"We want to see innovation at a more rapid pace," Smith said. "As we look forward, we want to see Java open because you want to experiment outside the box and take the advanced technology pieces and see that can be done in the enterprise."

The call for open sourcing Java comes a day after BEA CTO Scott Dietzen boldly suggested the same. Previously, BEA had been a staunch supporter of keeping Java in the hands of Sun.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker has come under fire recently for its reluctance to contribute parts of the programming language as open source code. The fire was rekindled this week with the release of some related Java-enabled projects like Looking Glass and Java 3D and the suggestion earlier this month by Sun to eventually open source its entire Solaris operating system.

The most problematic issue centers on Technology Compatibility Kits (TCK) for Sun's Java technology specifications. Sun suggests that open source would allow for unstable versions of standard Java and enterprise Java to run wild in the development community.

"This becomes an issue because if they make a mistake, half of Europe starts to glow," Gosling said referring to a European nuclear power plant that uses Sun's Java to monitor and control a 200+ ton generator.

Smith, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig and CollabNet CTO Brian Behlendorf suggested that Sun could let the open source community offset the cost of testing with the potential of cutting the cost. The process is already happening on a microcosm with the Groovy programming language (JSR 241), but Sun said that the project runs on top of Java and is not the core code.

"We don't want to take away the crown jewels from Sun," Behlendorf told internetnews.com. "We see what is happening with the collaboration process with the Python programming language and think that would work as well for Java."

The discussion also brought out the passions in the audience about the JCP, which has been accused in the past of dragging its feet when it comes to finalizing some Java Specification Request (JSR). For example, the very first JSR, which defines industrial standard Java was only recently certified after a nine-year process.

"It's a continuation of a journey of a journey. We will continue to evolve, but we are cautious," Gingell said.

Ultimately, enterprise may not care if Java is open or closed. Panelist Justin Shaffer with MLB Advanced Media said the company that runs Major League Baseball's Web site and the sites of all 30 major league teams cares more about its customers than it does about what it runs on.

"Sun may be a shoddy steward of the Java community, but it is better than anything else out there," said Shaffer who also points to other companies like online travel site Orbitz, the National Hockey League and the U.S. Government as loyal Sun Java customers.

On Wednesday, Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz said the only customers that he's talked to that care if Java is open sourced are the financial services ones that need to know in great detail how the actual code works.

More concerning for all on the panel are the outside market forces pushing the Java development issue, notably the Mono project, a free/open source implementation of Microsoft's .NET framework.

Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst with Illuminata, told internetnews.com the other issue not discussed is the stewardship of Java.

"There is a strong feeling that IBM would love to be the owner of that stewardship and protocols," Eunice said. "Enterprise Java Beans would not have come to fruition were it not for their IP. But there are unstated undertones by Sun because of its placement at the top of the contributors' list. That would certainly be a place of pride... and control if IBM were to take it away."