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Open Source Release For Sun's App Server

Sun Microsystems is quietly releasing the source code to the upcoming Java System Application Server, Platform Edition 9, under the GlassFish project, named after a semi-transparent aquarium fish.

The company is expected to release the source code for its Java-based application server under a new open source license as it kicks off its JavaOne conference in San Francisco today.

Now developers will be able to view and use the app server's innards under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) in January, said Joe Keller, Sun vice president of Java Web services and tools.

However, in order to view the source and related content, individuals had to sign an agreement under Sun's Java Research License (JRL), which restricts its use beyond research and development efforts and prohibits any internal implementations.

When GlassFish was released earlier this month under the JRL, it was met with skepticism. Some analysts commented that applications under the JRL allowed Sun to get free bug fixes out of the development community without truly open-sourcing the application.

Ted Schuh, Sun product marketing manager, said CDDL licensing has always been the company's plan for GlassFish and wasn't a response to the criticism.

"With JavaOne coming, we moved ahead with JRL/JDL licensing initially to get the project up and running," he said. "Once it became clear that all the right things would fall into place for CDDL licensing, we moved to it. The intent all along was to offer CDDL licensing for GlassFish, it was just a matter of timing."

The project is hosted on Sun's Java.net Web site, the company's development community for Java projects. It's a different venue than OpenSolaris, an open source version of the Solaris operating system released under the CDDL nearly two weeks ago.

OpenSolaris is hosted at its own Web site, OpenSolaris.org, and is managed by Sun with participation by an advisory group; the GlassFish project is operated completely under the Sun umbrella.

Steve O'Grady, an analyst at research firm RedMonk, said although the Linux community will not be happy about another open source project that isn't offered under the Generel Public License , he said the addition of an application server under CDDL will please organizations that have plans to use OpenSolaris.

"One of the things about CDDL is that it's a little bit easier for some commercial distributors simply because it doesn't have the repricosity clause that the GPL does," O'Grady said. "Commerical vendors that choose OpenSolaris for that reason now have an application server that layers on top of that with exactly the same license and provisions attached to it."

The company currently offers a commercial version of its application server at version 8.1 on its Web site, an update to the software first launched in April 2004.

Sun has given its application server software away as a free download for several years and generates revenues from the support and services it provides to customers. In recent years, the emergence and popularity of the open source JBoss application server and its software stack have cut into the revenues of some of the top commercial offerings, including Sun, BEA Systems and IBM .

Keller said downloads of its existing application server have been doing very well with more than three million downloads at an average of 40,000 downloads a month. He said he thinks developers use it as a benchmark to test Java compatibility against their own applications. GlassFish under CDDL will take it to the next step, he added.

"What we'd like to do now is, if you will, invite the energy of participation around the source code," he said. "We've had participation at the binary level, I think the source code will fuel participation at a higher level and grow this community."

The GlassFish project has been in beta tests the past couple weeks, Keller said, and today includes more content not available previously. Before the launch, there were only several GlassFish modules available out of the 19 listed.

With one application in the open source arena, it might lead to others down the road. Dana Gardner, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, said it's an option Sun might pursue but a long-term strategy investors might not be happy waiting to realize.

"I think Wall Street would like to see Sun do things that actually benefit their top line and bottom line; but a lot of these open source projects are still a longer-term strategy enticing development and then hopefully leading to more commercial revenue-generating activity," he said. "If they do move to open source more components, that doesn't satisfy that short-term need for additional revenue."