May 16, 2006 12:01 AM PDT

Java inches closer to open source

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Sun Microsystems is moving more of its software into the open-source realm. But the company will stop short of handing over the keys to Java itself--at least for now.

The company released the source code of more of its applications built on Java, including its portal and integration software, on Tuesday at its annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco. And as previously reported, it discussed the Java Distribution License (click here for PDF), which makes it easier to bundle the desktop Java Runtime Environment with Linux.

However, the event didn't see developers get their hands on the source code for the actual Java programming language--something that open-source advocates have urged Sun to hand over for years.

However, open-sourcing components of the Java language remains a possibility, said Rich Green, the executive vice president of software at Sun, who rejoined the company earlier this month.

"It's still on the table. We continue to analyze the situation in the marketplace," Green said. "There is comment, and there is value. We want to make sure we are doing the right things for the right people."

The planned JavaOne announcements--the release of more application code and the introduction of a license to better accommodate Linux--are meant to accelerate Sun's transition to an open-source business model.

The company's embrace of open source, and its efforts to warm up to other development languages, also reflect a shift in the center of gravity of the Java software development industry.

Vendor-driven standards bodies used to largely dictate the direction of Java. Now, open-source development projects and scripting languages have become fertile sources of innovation.

Still, Sun's open-source moves are unlikely to satisfy people who have called for the full-scale release of the Java language.

"(Open-sourcing Java) would be the only thing coming out of Sun that would be newsworthy," said Richard Monson-Haefel, an analyst at the Burton Group.

Sun has resisted such a move to prevent incompatibilities and fend off a loss of control over the Java brand. It has, however, altered its software licenses and processes to make it easier for licensees to view Java source code.

Monson-Haefel said Sun's decision to gradually open source its Java-based server software, as opposed to the language itself, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the marketplace overall. That's because it lags behind other Java middleware vendors--IBM, BEA Systems, Oracle and JBoss--in usage and market share, according to analyst research.

"If you're not making a splash as a commercial vendor, it's pretty sure you won't make a splash as open-source contributors," Monson-Haefel said.

Pushing the open-source envelope
The release of code for Sun's Java applications, a step toward open-sourcing its entire software product line, is part of the company's effort to increase revenue from its software business. Its strategy is to make money from providing support for freely available open-source products and to forge stronger relations with developers, who influence corporate purchasing decisions.

Earlier this year, Sun launched OpenSolaris, an open-source project for its Solaris operating system. In addition, it made a shift in its Java applications, scrapping an upfront license fee in favor of subscription-based pricing, common in open-source business models.

On Tuesday, Sun is expected to release a Java application server based on the Java Enterprise Edition 5 standard, a new version of the Java software that is designed to simplify the process of building server Java programs.

Other products Sun is expected to open source include: Sun Java System Portal Server 7; an integration server based on the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) specification; the Java Studio Enterprise tool; messaging-queuing software; and Web services Interoperability Technology, which is software for sharing data between Java and Microsoft .Net applications.

Green said that he will continue to pursue Sun's open-source software strategy and even pick up the pace.

"I'm planning on pushing the envelope much harder, in terms of technology and community development investments Sun makes," he said.

CONTINUED: Adjusting to open source…
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4 comments

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Some corrections
Hi, I wanted to suggest a couple of corrections to your story. First, you write "the event won't see developers get their hands on the source code for the actual Java programming". This is not true--the source code for the development kit (the JDK) has shipped along with every Java release since it was introduced 10 years ago. And as of last year, the Peabody project on java.net allows you to see all the rest of it--including the full source code for the virtual machine--Sun's implementation, Hotspot. The issue is not releasing the source code, but the license under which it is released. Until recently, any changes you made to the JDK Java source code could not be legally redistributed; this was relaxed last year so it is legal to release it within, say, a company, as long as you assume the risk of making the changes. What some FOSS advocates want is the right to take the JDK source code (from Sun), change or "fix" it, and then release those changes to the world. That's what you can't do right now.

Second, you write, "simpler, faster scripting languages are gaining interest among developers". However, "faster" in this case means "lower cost of development" or "faster time to market". Whether the scripting language actually performs faster depends on many factors. Perl will probably be faster for string operations as it can use a highly tuned C library to that end. Whether it's faster in general, or where it performs better, is a matter of benchmarking. The issue is not that Java is slow (though it is probably slower for some purposes) but that development in Java follows a traditional design-code-compile-test cycle which just takes longer, partly because of the extensive type-checking during the compile cycle, and partly because a compile needs to complete before the program can be run. Scripting languages which support a full interpreter can be run without an intermediate compile step, which some developers prefer, as they get feedback about what is wrong sooner.

Cheers
Patrick
Posted by pwawright (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some corrections
Hi, I wanted to suggest a couple of corrections to your story. First, you write "the event won't see developers get their hands on the source code for the actual Java programming". This is not true--the source code for the development kit (the JDK) has shipped along with every Java release since it was introduced 10 years ago. And as of last year, the Peabody project on java.net allows you to see all the rest of it--including the full source code for the virtual machine--Sun's implementation, Hotspot. The issue is not releasing the source code, but the license under which it is released. Until recently, any changes you made to the JDK Java source code could not be legally redistributed; this was relaxed last year so it is legal to release it within, say, a company, as long as you assume the risk of making the changes. What some FOSS advocates want is the right to take the JDK source code (from Sun), change or "fix" it, and then release those changes to the world. That's what you can't do right now.

Second, you write, "simpler, faster scripting languages are gaining interest among developers". However, "faster" in this case means "lower cost of development" or "faster time to market". Whether the scripting language actually performs faster depends on many factors. Perl will probably be faster for string operations as it can use a highly tuned C library to that end. Whether it's faster in general, or where it performs better, is a matter of benchmarking. The issue is not that Java is slow (though it is probably slower for some purposes) but that development in Java follows a traditional design-code-compile-test cycle which just takes longer, partly because of the extensive type-checking during the compile cycle, and partly because a compile needs to complete before the program can be run. Scripting languages which support a full interpreter can be run without an intermediate compile step, which some developers prefer, as they get feedback about what is wrong sooner.

Cheers
Patrick
Posted by pwawright (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
With All Of This Talk....
... about "Giving products away for free to developers has become commonplace...." I am very curious at this time as to why MICROSOFT, IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS are holding on to the OS/2 Source-Codes... when it is known that a few years ago IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS were engaged in a collaborative project for the "DESKTOP". Just what are NICROSOFT, IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS afraid of in moving the "JAVA OS" into the Open-Source Community when these companies are not actively supporting or have no interest in the OS/2 Platforms! Why not just give this "Java" OS away for free...!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
With All Of This Talk....
... about "Giving products away for free to developers has become commonplace...." I am very curious at this time as to why MICROSOFT, IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS are holding on to the OS/2 Source-Codes... when it is known that a few years ago IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS were engaged in a collaborative project for the "DESKTOP". Just what are NICROSOFT, IBM and SUN MICROSYSTEMS afraid of in moving the "JAVA OS" into the Open-Source Community when these companies are not actively supporting or have no interest in the OS/2 Platforms! Why not just give this "Java" OS away for free...!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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