Sun Releases More Java Code For Open Source

UPDATED: SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Sun Microsystems  is moving forward on its open source plans for Java with an ambitious new licensing strategy: it’s adopting the GNU  General Public License for its open source projects, starting with the Java source code it released today.

As the company promised this summer, it’s releasing the Java C compiler and Hot Spot Virtual Machine to the Java community as part of its continuing effort to open source all of the source code.

Sun’s adoption of the GPL version 2 is causing some ripples. It had been rumored all last week, but when executive vice president of software Rich Green made the announcement here in an auditorium full of Sun employees, an approving murmur washed through the crowd.

“This is a world-changing announcement,” he said, not lacking in hyperbole. “With this, Sun becomes the largest commercial contributor to open source.”

He then trumpeted an endorsement from Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. Stallman, not known for handing out compliments all that easily, is one of the pioneers in free software movement, who once wrote a critical editorial against Sun called The Java Trap.

In a videotaped statement, Stallman said “It’s very good that the Java trap won’t exist any more. This shows leadership, it’s an example I hope others will follow.”

Sun will release all of the Java SE, EE and ME (Micro Edition) code by the first quarter of next year. For now, it’s still coming in pieces, since the company has to clear all of the code and make sure it’s not releasing code from non-Sun developers.

Sun will still use its own Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which was based on the rather loose Mozilla Public License. All open source Sun code — OpenSolaris, NetBeans, Java EE — will be under a dual license, GPL and CDDL.

Code Plans

Also coming out is Java ME, the Micro Edition used in mobile phones and handheld devices. This includes the complete Connected Limited Device Configuration (CLDC) for mobile services and the testing framework. The Connected Device Configuration (CDC) will come later, according to Laurie Tolson, vice president of Java developer products at Sun.

Tolson said Sun’s move to open source was in part to bring more people to bear on the product than Sun has, but also because it was the only way to get some people to participate in the Java development process.

“There’s a lot of smart people will only work on it if it’s open source. We’re getting into markets that were closed to us because it wasn’t open source technology,” she said.

Those smart people may get more code to play with. To close out the conference, Green and Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, played another one of their tease routines like they did earlier this year at JavaOne.

Schwartz asked Green if he liked the idea of releasing OpenSolaris under a GPL license as well. Green pretended to balk, then said something non-committal. While they wouldn’t say anything definite, it’s unlikely that the two would float something like that to a room full of employees and press and not do it.

One of the biggest impediments to releasing more of the Java codebase has been that some components of Java are not Sun property and the company could not get permission to release the code.

Those components’ days appear to be numbered. “On parts we don’t own, we will work with the community to build them or come up with alternatives. We definitely want to get to the place where all of those components are available under open source license, not just a binary release,” she said.

Daryl Plummer, group vice president and chief of research for advanced IT at Gartner, said Sun needed to move to open source. “Sun wants to show its commit to the open source movement and thus to its customers by bringing out technology that can be changed more quickly, with the assurance that they will be standing behind it,” he said.

Sun had already done this with OpenSolaris, but if it didn’t open source Java as well, it would be sending a mixed message that would make customers skeptical, said Plummer.

Plummer said the move to open source is only helping speed up development of the platform. “Typically, to get something into Java, it had to start in the Java Community Process, go through JCP and end in the JCP. Now, things that can start in the open source arena much more quickly than they would have before. So that’s an advantage right there,” he said.

Sun expects to release the framework for Java device test suite in Java ME by the end of the year. The Java Development Kit is due in December, and shortly after that, Sun hopes to settle on a governance model for Java by then or early next year, said Tolson.

Other news from the event ranged from light to serious. The company said it is “open sourcing” Duke, the Java mascot shaped like a Star Fleet logo and frequently drawn giving the thumbs up. Now other developers can have fun drawing their own Duke, presumably with a different finger extended.

On a more serious note, they passed word that Java’s founding father James Gosling is recovering well from surgery to his jaw to correct severe sleep apnea. Gosling discusses it on his blog, which also featured Gosling without his trademark whiskers.

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