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 “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

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

“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.”

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