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Open Source Embrace Gives Sun New Fans

SAN FRANCISCO – It's remarkable what a change of course can do for a company. As a preview of JavaOne, which starts tomorrow, Sun Microsystems drew more than 4,000 open source supporters to its CommunityOne event here at the Moscone Center.

They weren't here to discuss open source Java, they were here to discuss everything open source, of which Java was but one element. Linux, MySQL, PHP, Ruby and other technologies were discussed by both Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) and customers alike.

Sun's first stab at open source was via the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) -- a modified Mozilla open source license recently approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). That didn't go over very well, so Sun switched to the more popular General Public License (GPL), and suddenly, it was getting Richard "St. IGNUcius" Stallman's blessings.

While Sun had been under pressure for some time to make the move, the fact is, there was some trepidation about it. "There was a lot of nervousness in the Java community about going open source," said Tim Bray, director of Web technologies for Sun, told Internetnews.com "Open source has always had a mantra of 'release early, release often,' which is not how the Java community wants to work."

But he said the shift in Sun has helped show open source developers the company is serious. "The success of open source is largely due to management saying everything has to be open source," said Bray. "The open sourcing of Java was the last big step to show the company was serious."

That helped the company gain some cache with the open source community and make the show, which admittedly is piggybacked onto JavaOne, attract so many developers. "[The show] could have taken place before, but it certainly helps Sun's credibility that Java is open source," said Redmonk senior analyst Steven O'Grady, who hosted an "Unconference" during the lunch break.

Credit to IBM too

But David Pollak, head of the Java Web framework project called Lift, thinks IBM helped set the stage with its open sourcing of Eclipse in 2001. "I think that was the time when enough people would have shown up at an open source Java conference, even if it wasn't promoted by Sun," Pollak told InternetNews.com. The attraction to open source developers had begun long before Sun got on the bandwagon, he argued.

Ian Murdock, the developer of the Debian Linux distribution hired by Sun to help make OpenSolaris more user-friendly and easy to install and update, thinks Sun's adoption of open source licensing helped get Java in more hands.

"Open source is more of a distribution vehicle," he said. "You can get that technology bundled in many more places. We saw that with the recent bundling deals with Ubuntu and Fedora."

Five to ten years ago, Sun was all about Solaris, SPARC and Java, Murdoch added. Now it supports Linux, x86 processors and a variety of dynamic languages like Python and Ruby. Going open source was a natural evolution. "I see it as a continuation of Sun's commitment to open standards and open protocols that have been a part of the company since its founding," he said.