Sun Partners Call For More Open Java Control


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Two of Sun Microsystems’ latest would-be saviors will be on display at this week’s JavaOne show: Jonathan Schwartz and Java Enterprise Edition 5.

But partners say what they most want from Java steward Sun is a philosophical change. They want the Java community to have more control over platform development and licensing.

Rumors swirl about Sun open-sourcing Java (stoked by partner-rivals like IBM), and Sun executives have said that this week’s show will include news about additional open-source contributions.

Still, while Sun has made significant swaths of Java source code publicly available, it has resisted calls to hand over full control of the technology to an independent governing body, instead remaining steadfast in its support for the Java Community Process (JCP). That irks VARs that say Sun’s turf-guarding is impeding Java development.

“The exciting things that are happening are not all being sourced from Sun,” said Joe Lindsay, president of QS Labs, a life sciences software and services firm in Irvine, Calif. “They have to accept things that don’t originate with them, and that’s not what we’ve seen. They’ve tied themselves to NetBeans and haven’t tied into Eclipse. I’m not sure that helps the community very much,” he said.

Terracotta CEO Ari Zilka illustrates his frustration with Sun: “I was recently at a conference as a vendor, and there was a booth called the JCP booth. There was no one in it, which is pretty telling. It was what everyone at the show was pointing out and joking about.”

Terracotta, a San Francisco ISV, is a JavaOne Gold sponsor, but Zilka thinks Sun needs to loosen its grip on Java. “Sun needs to be more open to the community at large contributing to the core definition and shape of Java.”

BEA Systems, another Java backer, points to a delay it has met trying to advance one of its Java projects, Java Specification Request (JSR) 235: Service Data Objects. A legal tangle to sort out intellectual property issues has left the project in limbo.

“For two years we’ve been stuck, and we’ve had to innovate around the JCP,” said Bill Roth, vice president of BEA’s Workshop business unit and a former Sun employee who was involved in Sun’s Java development and strategy. “The process they’ve set up for development doesn’t work anymore.”

In contrast, he points to the success BEA has had working with independent, open-source community coordinators such as the Eclipse Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation. IBM exerts no legal control over Eclipse anymore, “so we’re free to innovate,” Roth said.
Sun’s refusal to join Eclipse, an open-source development tools development consortium supported by all of the major vendors except Sun and Microsoft, is a perennial sore spot with developers.

Sun has made a few conciliatory moves toward Eclipse acceptance—including releasing an Eclipse plug-in for GlassFish, an open-source effort to build a free Java EE 5 application server that Sun launched last year—but Sun remains wedded to its own NetBeans IDE and critical of Eclipse.

JavaOne attendees shouldn’t get their hopes up for a change of heart from Sun, said Ian Skerrett, Eclipse’s marketing director. “We would definitely love to have more participation with Sun, but in terms of formal discussions, there’s nothing going on,” he said.

Pleas for Sun to give in and open-source Java have been issued for years but have been given new fervor with Schwartz’s ascendancy to the Sun CEO perch. Schwartz has been a catalyst for Sun’s cautious edging toward an open-source embrace. One major milestone is GlassFish, which will be included in the Java EE 5 SDK scheduled for release this week.

Matt Raible, a Java developer and practice leader at Virtuas, an open-source software consultancy in Denver, recently blogged about his “hunch” that this will be the year Sun makes the open-source Java leap.

“My big suspicion about why it might happen is the CEO change. Schwartz is such a big open-source guy,” he said.

BARBARA DARROW contributed to this story.

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