Sun fires back over Open Source Java accusations

Matt Whipp
PC Pro

February 17, 2004

Sun has offered a frank response to the open letter from Eric S, Raymond, President, Open Source Initiative, in which he called on Sun to make its Java platform Open Source and described the company's Open Source strategy as 'spotty' and 'confused'.

'I'd say this is 100 per cent rant,' Sun's Chief Technology Evangelist, Simon Phipps told us. 'His simplistic accusations don't hold water... If this is the way that Open Source treats its friends, I'd hate to see how it treats its enemies.'

Raymond's first line of attack was to dispute whether CEO Scott McNealy's claim that 'the open-source model is our friend,' has any substance when at the same time Sun is filling the coffers of Linux litigator SCO through licensing deals and still keeps Java under 'tight control'.

'It's pretty difficult to respond to this. He's so out of touch,' said Phipps. 'To even begin one must first address the error in his world view: He has taken quotes given by Scott McNealy to analysts and attacked them as if they were spoken to the Open Source community.

'In fact, Sun has contributed more to Open Source than anybody else bar Berkeley [University of California]. We understand Open Source better than anyone else. IBM is just wrapping itself in the flag, but it still behaves like an old-fashioned systems company. Sun is actually taking the risks. [Raymond] isn't well informed and is ignoring most of the stuff that Sun is doing. He completely ignores things like the Java Desktop, the Java Enterprise System running on Linux in its new servers. He's very selective about what he wants to write about.

For the record, Raymond wrote: 'Sun's insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Sun's long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community, ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl.'

Phipps responded that Java is not a scripting language, so it is meaningless to make such a comparison.

Raymond also wrote in his open letter: 'Sun's terms are so restrictive that Linux distributions cannot even include Java binaries for use as a browser plugin, let alone as a standalone development tool.' But Phipps responds that SUSE has managed to do so without any problems.

Raymond also says that Sun faces the stark choice of control or ubiquity for Java. Phipps said: 'Java is already everywhere.'

And as for control, Phipps maintains: 'Sun has no more control over Java than anyone else in the Java Community Process'. Besides, he said that since version 2.5 of the Java Development Process that was ratified some 18 months ago it has been possible for anyone to create an implementation of Java that complies with the Open Source requirements. And that includes Java 1.5 which will be out 'really soon' [an alpha was released two weeks ago].

'We don't have an axe to grind with Eric, and we don't have any hostility to what he is supporting. But I don't believe there are any barriers to making Java Open Source,' he said.

'The question he should really be asking is why has no-one else offered to create an Open Source version of Java. Maybe because it's on the 'too hard' list. Sun would support an Open Source version of Java, but it need a lot of money and time to do so. You can't just flick a switch. Right now Sun has higher priorities in the form of Java 1.5,' he said.

Questions of who makes Java Open Source aside, there is a strong demand that it be implemented. When we interviewed Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, last month we asked what the most pressing needs are for the GNU operating system (of which Linux is the kernel), he said: 'We need a free complete Java platform.'

Copyright 2004