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License to Thrive: Sun Opens Up Java Platforms

Sun Microsystems Inc. promised in May to give up its long-time stewardship of all things Java. The company is well on its way, but not everyone is applauding its open source licensing strategy.

Sun Microsystems Inc. promised in May to give up its long-time stewardship of all things Java. The company is well on its way, but not everyone is applauding its open source licensing strategy.

The Santa Clara, Calif. -- based creator of the Java programming language caught the industry's attention when it announced last month that it will license two more of its reference implementations, Java SE and Java ME, under the open source GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2). Java EE, already open sourced in June under the Glassfish Project, will also get a GPL.

"We evaluated a lot of licenses over the past six months, and we decided on the GPL, because it forces innovation out into the open," explains Ray Gans, Sun's senior program manager for Java SE. "It's the same license GNU Linux uses, and anyone who distributes code or modifications under the GPL must publish that source code. We also think it will help minimize proprietary forks."

Sun is releasing its Java technology under the GPLv2 with the so-called "classpath exception," a clarification from the Free Software Foundation that users of this code do not have to open source their own code. A long-time critic of Sun's proprietary hold on Java technology, Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GPL, commended Sun for showing leadership by choosing the license.

Richard Green
"Implying that we’re starting another open source Java project is ... a unique interpretation of the announcement."
Rich Green, Executive Vice President of Software, Sun Microsystems Inc.

Disharmony
While IBM Corp. applauds the open source move, the company issued a statement from its VP of emerging Internet technologies, Rod Smith, that was critical of Sun's licensing choice: "[W]e've discussed with Sun our strong belief that Sun should contribute [its] Java technologies to Apache rather than starting another open source Java project, or at least make [its] contributions available under an 'Apache friendly' license to ensure the open source Java community isn't fragmented and disenfranchised ..."

Smith pointed to the Apache Foundation's Harmony project, through which Sun, IBM and others are working on an implementation of Java SE under the open source Apache License.

"Implying that we're starting another open source Java project is ... a unique interpretation [of the] announcement," says Rich Green, executive vice president of software at Sun. "IBM and Sun have worked closely on the evolution of the [Java] platform. [IBM] has been one of the leading advocates of the GPL, being one of the largest distributors of Linux. We think the availability of Java under the GPL will enable projects such as Harmony to bring everything together under the Java.net community group."

Sun plans to begin this next phase of its open source process with three Java SE components: Java HotSpot, Sun's implementation of the JVM; the Java programming language compiler (javac); and the JavaHelp software, a documentation complement to the JDK. Sun made the source code for its feature phone Java ME implementation available immediately in the Java.net community.

The company isn't walking away from its commercial licenses. Users can still choose to license Java under existing terms.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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