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Sun commits to open source Java eventually

by Floyd Marinescu on May 18, 2006 |
Despite contrary signals from James Gosling just days before Java One, the conference kicked off with CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Rich Green confirmed that Sun will definitely open source Java but the timeframe and manner in which it would happen are still not clear. Despite the ambiguity, Sun's tone on the matter is clearly different from previous years in which they questioned the very idea.

Reactions in the community ranged from great anticipation to some including Cedric Beust proclaiming "who cares?", saying that the open source java debates are being driven by zealots, and what really matters is just changing distribution licensing.

A lot of the same old arguments are surfacing about this issue, but one point that has not yet been brought into context is the Apache Harmony factor.  Harmony is a community effort to establish a compatible, open source version of Java SE under the Apache license, and to  "create a community-developed modular runtime (VM and class library)  architecture to allow independent implementations to share runtime components, and allow independent innovation in runtime components".  

The project has made progress, last year IBM's contributions included a full time developer, the java.lang, IBM's implementation of the java.util, java.io, java.net class libraries, as  well as a standardized interface for a VM to operate with a class library, which, in keeping with the previously mentioned goal, would allow independent innovation in VM's while sharing the class library. Intel last year also made a contribution of security, cryptograhy, and related class libraries to Harmony.   In late 2005 Harmony was complete enough to be able to run the Eclipse compiler.

Every new announcement of progress for Apache Harmony has put additional pressure on Sun to open source their implemenation of the Java VM and classlibrary, and undoubtedly Harmony's recent progress has been a factor in Sun's change in tone. Open sourcing Java would have some tangible impacts:
 - As per Harmony's goals, you could have companies sharing certain components of the Java platform while innovating on others. For example, Intel could increase their time to market with a 64 bit optimized virtual machine (which uses the standard JDK implementation), or different vendors could more quickly port Java to their non-standard devices without all the legal and licensing overhead
 - Foreign governments concerned about betting their national infrastructure on US intellectual property could more readily commit to Java without worrying about one day losing support and upgradeability of they fall out of favour with the US and get sanctioned (this is a real concern in various emerging economies).  More use of Java across the planet is good for everyone
 - Companies could use the Java language but ship smaller, built-to-suite VM's

Sun's announcement lacked a timeframe or a strategy, but it appears to be a change in a different direction.

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From Star Wars to VM Wars... by Mark Richards

I am excited about the prospect of Java being open-sourced, but what I fear the most are the old days (back about 6-7 years ago) when we had the "are you using the Microsoft VM or the Sun VM?" Remember how some things worked fine in development and crashed in testing or production because we developed in Microsoft VM (Remember Visual Jplusplus ?) and deployed to Sun VM? We have seemed to overcome that issue, but I fear it will return with the open-source concept.

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