June 27, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Sun faces open-source swarm

Sun Microsystems' top brass will grab the limelight at this week's JavaOne conference. But in many respects, Sun is no longer the guiding light for technology it invented.

Developers and vendors report that programmers are increasingly turning to open-source projects for Java tools, forcing software providers to change with the times.

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What's new:
Java vendors Sun, BEA Systems and Oracle plan to announce boosted involvement in open-source projects at JavaOne, underscoring the growing influence of open-source in the software industry.

Bottom line:
Some open-source Java tools for corporate development are becoming de facto standards, moving the center of Java away from the Sun-controlled standards process.

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Following the recent open-source release of its OpenSolaris operating system, Sun is expected to formally announce two open-source projects around its Java server software, both using Sun's Common Development and Distribution License, or CDDL. GlassFish will be a code-sharing project for Sun's Java System Application Server Platform Edition 9, which will start on Monday. Another, called the Sun Java Enterprise Service Bus, is slated to start in the next few months, according to Sun.

Other established players are pushing further into the open-source model as well. BEA Systems plans to detail its support for the Spring and Struts open-source frameworks inside its WebLogic Workshop development tool and Java application server.

Oracle is expected to make its JDeveloper development tool available for free on Tuesday and become a "core contributor" to the Apache MyFaces open-source project for Web development.

Open-source Java projects benefit commercial providers because they can foster a rapid development process and get tools into developers' hands for free. That leads to potential follow-on sales of servers and software to run Java applications.

But Sun remains an outside challenger to established Java vendors and open-source alternatives, such as JBoss, according to analysts. And the emergence of de facto standards from open-source world is pushing the center of Java development outside the Sun-controlled Java standards process.

"The convoluted way that Sun has managed the whole process has cost them a great deal with their reputation in the developer community," said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Yankee Group. "It has to do with the original sin of holding on to Java too long."

Sun critics for years have asked that the company make Java an open-source project because it would invite a more vibrant development community around it.

The company has steadfastly stuck to the position that it needs to maintain stewardship over Java in order to maintain compatibility across different systems.

Warming to open-source
Sun has taken several steps to re-create many of the advantages of an open-source development process without creating an open-source project around the Java language and desktop software.

Earlier this year, the company changed the terms for Java licensees and the development process of Mustang edition of the Java 2 Standard Edition--the desktop version of Java--to allow people to view the code as it's being built. Sun is expected at JavaOne to provide an update to Mustang, an update meant to simplify Java programming and improve security, which is due in the middle of next year.

"They are really bringing more good will with developers and made a big step with Mustang. But many developers still feel that Sun is too controlling."
--Matthew Schmidt, VP of technology, Javalobby

The improvements planned with Mustang and the more transparent process of building desktop Java applications have gone a long way toward improving Sun's relations with developers, said Matthew Schmidt, vice president of technology at Javalobby.

"They are really bringing more good will with developers and made a big step with Mustang," Schmidt said. "But many developers still feel that Sun is too controlling."

With GlassFish and its integration server open-source project, Sun intends to continue that process of being open, allowing developers to see the products as they are developed and interact with Sun engineers.

"The way software is going to be developed is going to be in much broader communities which you can participate in a much deeper

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