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IBM's Mills on Java, Sun and SOA

HAWTHORNE, N.Y.-- The head of IBM's $13 billion software division has added his voice to the call for Java to become completely open-sourced instead of managed by its creator, Sun Microsystems.

"There's no reason for Java to become inconsistent," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group. "And certainly there's no question that there are lots of community processes that maintain consistency. And certainly there's no question that this is a Sun [Microsystems] creation. It's not about the brand, it's about the process," he said of the issue.

Mills' comments added more grist to the discussion mill that IBM cranked up recently, thanks to an open letter from Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technologies. In the letter to Rob Gingell, Sun Microsystems' vice president, Smith urged the companies to put their heads together and create an open source version of Java. Sun said no thanks.

"Our view is that Java should move to more of a community driven process," Mills told internetnews.com. "Not a Sun managed community but an industry standards body based approach. That would be good for the ongoing growth and adoption of Java."

During a recent interview with internetnews.com at IBM's Hawthorne, N.Y., campus, Mills discussed topics that included Big Blue's approach to helping customers and ISVs build applications on service-oriented architectures (SOA) ; what impact, if any, the bombshell Sun/Microsoft Java settlement might have on IBM's own investment in Java-based technologies; and how Sun's own NetBeans project might be improved.

Indeed, he said he thought the idea of NetBeans and (the formerly IBM-led) Eclipse project joining forces on open source toolkit developments would be a helpful addition to the Java open source question. Sun has been reportedly mulling the move but has opted for now to stay put with its own NetBeans open source development effort for toolsets.

Mills' comments come just weeks after Sun and Microsoft shocked the industry when they announced a settlement of Sun's long-running litigation involving Microsoft's use of its own Java licenses. As a result of the $1.9 billion settlement payment Microsoft has promised to Sun, the industry is now watching to see how new collaborations between the two companies could affect standards such as Web services.

Mills said it's too soon to say what might come from the Sun/Microsoft alliance, but stressed that the deal would have no competitive impact on IBM's own investment in Java and Java platforms -- and that IBM remains a competitor to both companies.

"Java is open sourced to all licensees. The Java process delivers to all licensees the source code associated with whatever version of Java comes out. It just happens to be an open source process that's controlled through a single vendor," Mills added. "By the way, Microsoft was a licensee. It could always be a licensee [of Java]. Microsoft chose to dislike Java," he said, in a reference to Sun's decade-long litigation over how Microsoft approached its use of Java.

The larger point, he added, is that Java could move faster through an industry-managed process, which would be cheaper for Sun.

"Sun has spent a lot of money managing the process, administering the process, creating the test cases, running the test cases. The industry is more than able to bear the burden of managing the process and covering the cost. I think when you spread the cost and expenses [to a larger community], you're able to also more effectively spread the licensing as well, which could improve the marketplace adoption of Java," Mills said.

Sun did not reply to a request for comment. Analysts see the open source question for Java as a move by IBM to counter the dominance of Microsoft's .NET platform.

Mills also said IBM's approach to SOA is based on clients moving towards more integration and process integration than ever before.

"The notion of SOA is an extremely important one," he added. "I think many customers today identify with the needs and requirements [of building SOA] more in the context of business process integration than they do with [building] a true SOA."

Customers may be thinking "'how am I going to improve integration within the context of this piece of my business,'" he said. "It's a continuous process. It's a journey. There's a lot of iteration that one goes through.

"What we're delivering is a consistency of infrastructure," he said, noting his group's middleware enablers in the WebSphere product lines, the BUS services, transaction control, choreography, the development tooling, the workflow and monitoring.

"All those things are used and reused all over again with SOA," he added. "So when you look at what IBM is delivering, you see a consistent architecture for integration. And then you see a whole potpourri of pre built material and options for you to choose from, largely based upon the industry that you're in and the particular problem that you're trying to solve."