Red Hat Joins Sun’s Open Source Java Party

Sun’s open source Java effort has won a new convert today; Red Hat has announced that it will join the Sun-led OpenJDK effort and will now be an active participant in the process.

With Sun open sourcing Java, it took the first step on a longer road toward further opening it up to development. Despite those efforts, there remains much still to be done — which is why Sun will need the help of Red Hat and others to make open source Java a success.

“There is more to open source than licensing,” Simon Phipps, Sun’s chief open source officer, told “Open source communities have to have rules about how they govern themselves.”

Phipps explained that the rules of the GPL open source license, under which the OpenJDK (Java Development Kit) is licensed, allow for anyone to make their own JavaVM. But it also makes sense for developers to join their efforts with those of other interested parties, so that a wider community can contribute and maintain the same project.

The agreement between Sun and Red Hat is a contribution agreement, which helps to set out the rules of governance and participation under which Red Hat is involved in the OpenJDK effort. Phipps said the agreement ensures that contributions are free of intellectual property issues.

“What Red Hat has done is simple, good community membership,” Phipps said. “That’s in their interest, so they can freely work on the OpenJDK code and other will help to maintain it.”

As part of the collaboration, Red Hat will also get access to the Java SE Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) to ensure that technology developed by Red Hat is compliant with JavaSE specifications. The TCK itself is not available under an open source license.

“Sun is still producing TCK as an expression of the specification that it is working in the JCP [Java Community Process] to create,” Phipps said. “TCK has not been constructed as an open source project. We’ve been discussing what will happen longer-term, and I fully expect that situation to change.”

When that situation might change, however, is uncertain. Phipps described the TCK as the “gold standard” that defines what is Java and what isn’t — and as such, the custodians of Java are very conservative about changes to the kit.

For Red Hat, participating in the OpenJDK effort means that it will be able to actually support and influence Java development from the JDK level and above. Shaun Connolly, vice president of product management for the JBoss division at Red Hat, told that by being part of the OpenJDK community, Red Hat could now support Java from end to end.

Red Hat also now will be able to actually fix and support issues in Java directly, since the JDK itself will be open source. It’s also important in that it will help Red Hat drive Java fully into the open source space, he said.

“Red Hat’s stance on Java has been clear: Get it out in open source,” Connolly said. “Red Hat was working on its own initiative trying to apply appropriate pressures, but with Sun’s announcement of OpenJDK it makes sense to be part of that effort.”

That Red Hat initiative, called IcedTea, came about in an attempt to deal with the elements of Java that are still not open source.

“It was not intended to be a fork and is not a complete replica of OpenJDK,” Connolly said. “It just gave our Java people a place to work in advance of getting the details ironed out on the collaboration deal with Sun.”

Sun’s Phipps commented that he’s been “happy” about IcedTea all along, and said that it was never capable of becoming a fork. Rather, he sees it as development that happens on top of the OpenJDK. With the new collaboration in place, the expectation from both Sun and Red Hat is that the IcedTea-based enhancement will find their way back into the OpenJDK community as a whole.

In the meantime, the focus for Red Hat’s collaboration in the OpenJDK effort is to further help identify and open areas that are not yet open source.

“Getting a full open source implementation of Java is job number one,” Connolly said.

Sun’s Phipps also noted that there are still non-open items — which he reference as “encumbrances” — that Sun is working toward opening, though he did note that Sun has made great strides thus far.

“There will continue to be challenges for getting the community up and running, including getting a version control system … and interesting challenges on governance,” Phipps said. “Operationally, things when you’re close to the effort look big, but from an aerial point of view, we’re in pretty good shape.”

While getting Red Hat to become a formal member of the OpenJDK effort is a key milestone for open source Java, there are still other major Java vendors that have remained on the sidelines. Among them is none other than IBM. An IBM spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Phipps was unable to comment on the possibility of IBM participating in the effort.

“I would love to see IBM join in the same way,” Phipps said. “As far as open source is concerned, our goal is to identify developers and get them involved. If you look through the ranks of the OpenJDK project, you’ll find people from a number of different organizations are involved.”

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