The long-awaited open sourcing of Java is finally upon us, with Sun announcing the first of a set of releases planned through into 2007. The question of which license Sun would adopt is now settled: it’s the GNU General Public License version two. However, key questions are yet to be answered – namely whether the move will help Sun’s revenue, and whether open sourcing Java may be a step too late.
Java was adopted by the IT industry as the preferred computer language for the age of the internet, inheriting many ideas from the then dominant language C++. It was the first popular fully ‘object oriented from the ground-up’ language that also introduced managed memory. This removed a bane from around programmers’ necks – the onerous task of manually provisioning memory and handling pointers.
The open source community also grew with the internet, but never wholeheartedly adopted the language because it was ultimately controlled by a single vendor, Sun Microsystems. This was despite the Java Community Process, which manages changes to the language and is an open process.
With the full open sourcing of the core language, resistance to its adoption by this important community is sure to drop; there are already plans to ship the GNU Linux distribution with Java as standard.
The choice of license is also important – the General Public License (GPL) tends to divide people into those vehemently against, and those with a more politically-oriented view of the open source software (OSS) movement, as GPL prohibits usage that returns code into closed, proprietary source. Much business-oriented OSS is available under freer license varieties that allow the code to be mingled with proprietary code without compromising its closed status. For Sun, the GPL offers a degree of protection and ensures Java remains pure OSS.
It is unlikely that anything will change in respect of the JCP, and should a forking occur (always a possibility with OSS), the trademark protection over names will ensure that anything called Java will be the JCP sanctioned version. That said, someone may pick up Java and run with it in an interesting direction.
The question for Sun is whether open sourcing Java will help its revenue, always a sensitive issue given its limited success to date. With the move towards a service and support business model, the vendor wants an increase in adoption of the language, and that should now be expected.
Another important question concerns whether open sourcing Java is a step too late. There is talk that Java is too large already and is outgrowing its usefulness for today’s agile web-enabled world. Open sourcing the language will encourage a wider debate, and give it a fresh lease of life.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)