Sun Denies Open Source Java Imminent

Sun was quick to deny published reports today that it plans to open source Java in the next few months. The company is working on the project, but any transition to open source is closer to a year away.

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer for Sun , made a comment he said was misconstrued at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) in London earlier this week concerning Sun’s efforts to release Java as an entirely open source project.

Sun made the commitment to open sourcing Java at the JavaOne conference earlier this year, but gave no timetable for a release. When asked after his presentation at OSBC by a member of the audience about the progress of preparing the software for release, Phipps said it would be “months rather than years.”

Faster than you could say “bytecode,” other news sites said Java would be open sourced in a matter of a few months. Phipps expressed his exasperation in a blog entry.

As much as the publications jumped to conclusions, Phipps could have been a little more specific as well, like he was in his blog, where he said “it’s double-digit months and not September!”

To be sure, he told, open source Java is coming. It won’t take as long as OpenSolaris, which took five years to pass legal muster. “It will only take months, and we will make it happen as soon as we can. Our intent was to indicate we are very serious to get the Java platform as open as soon as we can make it but acting with due responsibility,” he said.

That responsibility means parsing the four million lines of code that constitute the Java platform and make sure any patent holders are satisfied before releasing the code. Satisfying IP rights is a major holdup for Sun, he said.

“The process of open source is a balancing act of governance and licensing of the code, but the other key ingredient is you have to respect people at Sun and the commitment they have shown to Java over the last ten years.”

There are also debates internally at Sun over governance and licensing of the code and also how compatibility will be maintained. Sun isn’t worried about a forking of the Java code tree the way Linux has, nor is it worried about Microsoft, which embraced Java in the late 1990s only to make its Java code unportable thanks to the J/Direct API that tied it to Windows.

“What people are worried about is an incompatible fork used to get a competitive advantage,” said Phipps. “Our concern is to make sure that the natural instinct of the successful players in the Java market drift into making ever-so-slightly incompatible versions does not happen. The tendency of an uncoordinated process is to drift apart.”

For now, the open code development of Mustang, the codename for the Java 6 Standard Edition project, has been providing the company with some guidance on how to handle open source in the future.

Each week, Sun releases new builds of the Java SE 6 along with the source code and has enjoyed heavy community involvement in the software’s development cycle. “That project has shown us lots of things that are good and some things that need fixing. We’re going to learn a lot from it,” said Phipps.

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