Is It too Late for Sun?

Sun says that an open source Java will be released within “months”:

A Sun Microsystems Inc. executive said Tuesday said the company is “months” away from releasing its trademark Java programming language under an open-source license.

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer for Sun, said the company is ruminating over two major issues: how to keep Java compatible and ensure no particular company uses market forces as muscle for its own implementation, a move that would threaten Java’s “write once, run anywhere” mantra. …

Sun announced in May it would release an open-source version of Java, about one month after Jonathan Schwartz replaced Scott McNealy as chief executive officer. The leadership change pushed the issue of whether to open source Java to how to make the transition, Phipps said. (InfoWorld)

People have been calling for Sun to open source Java for quite some time with Peter Yared, ActiveGrid CEO, being one of the most vocal. Customers, partners, and community members have been dragging Sun kicking and screaming to the open source Java party, but for the most part Sun is just late to the game:

Many observers say Sun’s moves are late, as Microsoft Corp. has gained ground with its own .NET and C# programming languages.

Brian Behlendorf, co-founder of the Apache Web Server Project, said Sun and Java would have benefited earlier from distributed debugging and innovation plus a better reputation for reliability, especially on the server side.

“I think had they done it, they would have established Java further as the language of choice by so many more people,” Behlendorf said.

One area that will need to change is the Java Community Process (JCP), whereby Java standards are set, a prominent free software developer said.

The JCP is too secretive and restrictive, said Dalibor Topic, who leads the Kaffe project, which has been working for years on an open-source version of Java.

“I do not value spending my time wrestling with Sun’s legal department to find out if I can talk about something with my peers,” he wrote in an e-mail, soon after Sun announced plans to open source Java.

Sun’s talk of delivering an open-source version of Java ignores that fact that open-source Java runtimes and compatibility test suites already exist, he said.

“Basically, we’ve already come 90 percent of the way towards having several full, compatible, free software Java 1.5 implementations, without Sun’s support,” Topic said. “I don’t think that Sun would like to promote the message that open source Java has, for the most part, already been done, without them contributing.” (InfoWorld)

Danese Cooper suggests keeping an eye on Harmony, which the Linux distributors can ship pre-installed, while Sun’s JRE is relegated to a less accessible “non-free” directory.

All of this leads me to wonder whether Sun is just too late to the party. There will certainly be much rejoicing among the open source and Java communities when Java is finally released into open source, but at the end of the day how much will really change as a result of it?

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