Sun promises to open source Java

Sun promises to open source Java

Vendor asking for community input on how to balance open source with preventing fragmentation

Sun Microsystems is planning to release the source code of the Java programming language, chief executive Jonathan Schwartz said at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco.

"It's not a question of whether we'll open source Java, now the question is how," Schwartz told delegates in his opening keynote at the tradeshow.

By releasing the source code, Sun hopes to attract a new group of developers who previously refused to use the language because of the software license, Schwartz latter added.

The debate about open sourcing Java has been raging for years and in part was fuelled by IBM. Sun so far has resisted calls to release the code over concerns for fragmentation and forking.

A group of developers could split off from the main Java community and form a second, independent group that follows an independent course. This could lead to confusion with developers and cause Java to lose focus.

The dozens of Linux distributions often are considered a prime example of forking gone wrong. Because each distro is different, software developers are forced to certify their applications for each distribution. This has allowed Red Hat and SuSE to ascent to a position of the defacto commercial Linux standards.

IBM in the past has argued that releasing the Java source code could attract more developers to the language because it guarantees that Java will continue to evolve independently from Sun.

The server vendor over the past months and years has already released significant software portions around Java including the Glassfish application server. Practically Java is close to being completely open source already, Rich Green, Sun's newly appointed software boss, argued on stage at JavaOne. But the company has yet to figure out how to prevent fragmentation while embracing the open source model, he said.

"The challenge going forward is to balance all those things,"

Green called upon developers and members of the Java Community Process to provide feedback on the best way to open source Java. He didn't say when he expects open source Java to be available.

James Governor, a principal analyst with RedMonk, said that he still expects Sun to pay much attention to prevent forking.

"Sun will still obsess over it, but it's less of an issue than it's made out to be," Governor said.

He pointed to the speed at which Sun was able to get the latest version of Java EE 5 approved by the Java Community Process, an initiative that allows software vendors including IBM and BEA to provide input on upcoming Java standards.

Where in the past new Java versions lead to prolonged discussion, this version was essentially "rubberstamped" by the JCP members, Governor argued. The speediness illustrates that Sun will be able to release new Java versions much faster, allowing the vendor to stay ahead of any open source competition.