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Promise Kept: Sun Delivers Open Source Java

Sun Microsystems today will announce it's released a fully buildable Java Development Kit (JDK) for Java Platform Standard Edition (Java SE) under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. Sun is planning a formal announcement today at its JavaOne conference in San Francisco.

The company said last November it intended to make the code available under the GPL once it worked out all of the legal snags, since it did not own all of the six million lines of code used to build Java.

There are a few remaining bits of code that cannot be GPLed because Sun  doesn't own them and the owner is not willing to open source the code. Sun will release those encumbered bits as binary plug-ins for the buildable code, according to Rich Sands, community marketing manager for the Open JDK community.

Most of the encumbered bits are in Java 2D technology, such as the font and graphics rasterizer, plus the sound library. Sands said Sun and members of the Java community are trying to develop their own alternatives but clearly it's not easy. Sun has known about these encumbered bits since last year and still doesn't have alternatives for them.

The next step is preserving compatibility. "Now that we have an open source implementation out there, it becomes important for the compatibility promise of Java that there be a way to certify apps are compatible," Sands told internetnews.com.

So Sun is creating a process to test compatibility against the open source code base, to make sure applications are compatible with the Open JDK. Sun also want to make sure that changes made to the Open JDK don't break it, although Sands said he doesn't expect to see any of the dreaded "forking"  that has splintered so many Linux distributions.

"There is such a huge installed base of Java application code that there isn't a big demand in the market for an implementation that doesn't run all the existing stuff," he said.

Sun is also creating an Interim Governance Board for the OpenJDK Community. This board will have five members, two from Sun and three from outside the company. Sun plans to name the membership publicly at JavaOne.

The Interim Governance Board's charter is to draft and gain ratification of a new constitution for the OpenJDK Community within the next year. The community will then hold an election to replace the Interim Governance Board with a permanent board in accordance with the constitution.

"We are working to make sure the needs of the community are being met, and that governance of the community are fair and open and transparent," said Sands. "In an open source project, typically the community has a big say in how the project evolves. There are ways to make sure most active members are committers to the code base. We will be turning over governance of the JDK Community with this board."

What a difference a decade can make, noted Clay Ryder, president of The Sageza Group. In 1997, Sun tried to obtain ISO standard approval for Java with itself as the sole contributor. But the ISO wanted the standards they issue to be the result of an industry agreement as opposed to one vendor saying here's it is, said Ryder.

Still, the kind of about-face Sun is showing could not happen in 1997. "I'm not sure it could have happened 10 years ago, but I don't think it couldn't have happened until now," Ryder told internetnews.com. "In 1997, Linux was not a factor at all. In 1999 it was gaining steam but had a lot of questions around it."

In the end, it took time for open source to gain mainstream acceptance, and perhaps a change at Sun as well. "It's certainly compatible with [CEO Jonathan] Schwartz's thinking," Ryder added. "When you think about what Sun has wanted to do, they wanted to make Java ubiquitous. One of the easiest ways to make that happen is to have everyone understand the code and drive it. Now that all of it is open source, that will help to get more interest in it."