Partners Ready To Dig Into Open-Source Java

set Java free under the open-source GNU General Public License

Sun continues to hold Java's copyright and will retain final say on what becomes part of the official Java platform, but the company is now welcoming submissions from developers willing to grant Sun joint copyright ownership of their code. Some partners are ready to sign on the dotted line.

Terracotta, a San Francisco ISV, would love to see its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) clustering technology become a bundled part of the Java platform. Its initial efforts to attract Sun's attention proved fruitless, but once Sun began considering open-source options earlier this year, the company's attitude shifted, according to Terracotta founder Ari Zilka.

"It's easy to find [Sun] and interface with them now. We don't have to convince a huge monolithic software company. We have to convince a few people," Zilka said. "It's a lightweight process. It turns from an 18-month conversation into an 18-week conversation, and the community now has a stronger voice."

Zilka said he'd be happy to share Terracotta's copyrights with Sun. The open-source model resonates with him: Terracotta offers its software free and begins charging for it when customers move the technology into production.

Sponsored post

"I understand why Sun is doing this. The way the Java community is right now, you earn the right to make money, then you start charging," Zilka said.

After years of enduring a wary relationship with the open-source community, Sun appears ready to embrace the enthusiastic masses. On Monday, the Santa Clara, Calif., company grandly laid claim to being one of the largest open-source contributors in the industry, thanks to the millions of lines of code Java comprises.

For years, Java has been surrounded by a fringe community of outliers doing unsanctioned, innovative work. Now those developers will have the opportunity to integrate their work with the Java mainstream. They include people like Jim Pick, who maintains an open-source JVM called Kaffe.

"I think this kills [Microsoft] .Net," Pick said. It also may kill momentum behind his own project, but Pick doesn't care. While those looking for a JVM now will have access to Sun's official version, Pick said he'll maintain Kaffe as long as users remain interested in the project.

Meanwhile, Pick is looking forward to a Java renaissance. "Look at all the projects over the years that should have gone into Java but didn't because they weren't on Sun's agenda," he said. "It's stuff that would have revolutionized the industry. People will now be able to publish it, distribute it, have it find its audience and take off. You can't do that without a free-software approach." Sun Director of Web Technologies Tim Bray hopes that Java will be able to harness that innovation. A fervent fan of open source and standardization, Bray has been pushing Sun since he joined the company two years ago to open-source Java.

"It has been given away freely for so long, and it has worked its way into so many places, that it should belong to the community. And if anyone figures out how to make it better, they should just bloody well give that discovery back," Bray wrote in an ebullient blog posting, titled "Java Is Free."

Solution provider Mainsoft, a San Jose, Calif.-based software and services firm that helps customers migrate .Net systems to Linux and Java, sees open-source Java as a big boon for its business.

"Our customers are going to see the Linux platform and Java being even more aligned. Java can become an integrated part of Linux now that they're under the same license," said Yaacov Cohen, CEO of Mainsoft.

Mainsoft previously tried to negotiate with Sun for a JVM license but gave up after finding the legal and bureaucratic process too cumbersome. Cohen is pleased that Mainsoft will get another crack at working on the JVM, which Mainsoft would like to adapt for cross-platform use.

"The GPL is very clear about how you do these things, how you can access the source code and how you can contribute. Now it's easy," Cohen said.

Though most of the Java community cheered Sun's GPL move, the decision didn't thrill everyone. After years of griping about Sun's proprietary hold on Java, IBM continued to grouse about Sun's open-source choices and released a statement chiding Sun for not going the Apache route for Java's licensing and ownership.

"In general, we are pleased about Sun's announcement that they intend to open-source Java and are very supportive of the move," said Rod Smith, vice president of emerging Internet technologies at IBM, in a statement. "IBM supports all the OSI-approved open-source licenses. Having said that, there already is an important existing open-source effort working with Sun to create a Java-compatible implementation of Java SE in the Apache Foundation, namely the Harmony project."

Harmony, recently promoted out of Apache's incubator to become a top-level project, aims to create a compatible, independent implementation of Java Standard Edition 5. Harmony's overseers say they expect to continue their work, with their open-source project paralleling Sun's but meeting the needs of a different audience. Unlike the GPL, Harmony's license -- Apache v2 -- allows derivative works to remain proprietary.

"The more open-source Java, the better," said Harmony project chair Geir Magnusson. "I think the differences are clear, and what I think will happen is that people who were sitting on the fence will now make decisions about which open-source Java project to build on. I think we're going to get our fair share of committers, too."