Java will go open source, but how?

By Tony Baer
Computer Business Review

May 17, 2006

Sun Microsystems Inc will open source Java, but it hasn't figured out how to do it yet, incoming chief executive Jonathan Schwartz has revealed.

During the opening keynote of JavaOne 2006 Schwartz wasted little time in cutting to the chase about the question on everybody's minds: Will Sun open source Java?

He passed the bag to Rich Green, who rejoined Sun just 10 days ago to retake in his old role as head of Sun's software business.

"It's not a question of whether it's a question of how," Green said.

Later, during a press conference, Schwartz added that Sun would do the due diligence on the open sourcing issue "as soon as possible," qualifying that it would be a decision that would involve the JCP, not just Sun alone.

He and Green pointed to Sun's moves over the past year to open source even more of the family jewels, such as the Solaris operating system.

Addressing the issue of whether free software would undermine Sun's business, Schwartz pointed out that Sun's actual sales of Solaris-based systems have increased to the highest levels on his watch since it was open sourced a year ago.

On Java, Green reiterated Sun's perennial concerns over the forking of technology.

"Compatibility matters," he said, noting that the big concern was to prevent open sourcing from forking Java into separate technology paths. Underscoring the message, he invited members of the Java EE 5 expert group, who had just voted unanimously to approve the final spec.

Asked during the press conference if Sun would consider going back to the conference room and talking peace with NetBeans, Schwartz did not rule anything out. But back at the keynote, he welcomed to the stage JBoss's Marc Fleury, who announced his company's support for NetBeans.

Reinforcing that message, Schwartz invited Motorola CEO Ed Zander, who of course was previously at Sun, to make a plea.

Boasting that Motorola alone would make 200 million phones this year, more units than the entire PC industry, Zander made his pitch for the company's new open source site, where it is making freely available test suites for J2ME compatibility.

Given the success of Motorola in populating the market with mobile Java, Schwartz gave Zander this year's Dukie award for Java innovation.

And that lead to the next message, that Java EE 5 is a done deal, having been unanimously approved by the JCP (Java Community Process) EE expert group, and now supported by the NetBeans 5.5 IDE.

That reinforced the next message, which if you think that Java is still too complicated, look at the tools, not the platform. "Java EE 5 is about appealing to the next rung down in the pyramid to the VB crowd," said Schwartz.

During the opening keynote, Sun rolled out plenty of demos of Java EE 5 technologies announced last year such as Java Annotations, which helps developers avoid the dreaded deployment descriptors that may considered Java's moral equivalent of Microsoft's DLL hell (which Microsoft fixed with the .NET framework's side-by-side deployment).

And they also showed features such as the ability to quickly use BPEL to orchestrate web services through point and click, rather having to monkey around with XML programming, merge NetBeans' Swing visual classes with Ajax.

Looking forward, Schwartz, Green, et al were looking at ways to broaden the Java community, and not just by exhorting developers to go online and enroll. Voicing what's been muttered around the community. Green said that they didn't necessary see the Java platform and a Java language-only world.

Consequently, while Java EE 5 acknowledged the existence of open source alternatives such as Spring and Hibernate, and Java SE 6 is courting the Ajax community, Green hinted that languages popular with web developers such as PHP might eventually join the Java tent.

This year's keynote was not as dramatic as last year's "I love you guy" embrace by IBM, which instead of bolting re-upped for 10 years its Java license and membership in the JCP, and the unveiling of Java EE 5.

By contrast, this year's opening message was more on the here and now, showing that Java can blend with Web 2.0 rich clients, simplify leveraging of web services technologies, coexist with .NET, and now find a legal way onto free Linux platforms to serve rapidly emerging markets in the developing world.

And it was about the passing of the baton, which in the Java world is called the "pickle." In place of Scott McNealy's wisecracks, Schwartz's message was more a politically correct inclusiveness. And with Rich Green returning to the fold, there was the message that Sun hoped to repeat the excitement of Java's early years when the J2EE platform put it on the enterprise map.

But, blinded by its own success during the bubble, when Microsoft was not a serious competitor, Java was blindsided when SOAs and web services standards emerged. The Java crowd is hoping that on this go round, Sun will more effectively make the transition to Web 2.0.

Copyright 2006