The Software View Newsletter: Java says, “Open Sesame!

(The following story was contributed by Mark Kuharich and
is excerpted from the current issue of the Software View e-newsletter.–lt

by Mark Kuharich

“Sun was way too scared of Microsoft, and as a result they
created a contract that didn’t help them. Java is in the die-back
stage — it’s going into niche markets.”

No less a software industry luminary than Linux creator Linus
Torvalds spoke the above quote at the Oracle Open World conference
on November 11th of the year 1998. Torvalds is the very
personification of the open-source software movement. And his quote
bespeaks a damning and profound question: Did Sun Microsystems’
control of Java prevent the software technology platform from
achieving even more success than it already has? Sun is also
consistently and notoriously late in releasing timely upgrades to

Open-source is basically software developed by widespread
collaborating programmers, using freely distributed source code and
the communications facilities of the Internet and the World Wide
Web. It is software developed and distributed in an open manner.
The Internet is awash in open-source software. There are thousands
of open-source projects, each incorporating the work of many
developers. Here are some of the most important:

Linux, OpenBSD, the Free Software Foundation’s GNU programming
tools, Perl, tcl, Python, the Apache web server, the Mosaic
Internet web browser, the Samba file and print technology,
Sendmail, Mozilla, the B News package for Usenet, Fetchmail, GIMP,
patch, CVS, qmail, and BIND.

Open-source software is easily customizable, is more reliable,
robust, stable, less expensive and less buggy because source code
is available for massive independent peer review. More programmers
create software quicker and with lower overhead cost. New software
is developed in a tight feedback loop with customer demand, without
distortions caused by marketing clout or top-down purchasing
decisions. Sharing source code facilitates creativity. And worthy
projects need not be orphaned when a programmer moves on. With the
source code available, others can step in and take over. Customers
are finally granted true choice and competition, and are freed from
oppressive software licenses. The ability of open-source to collect
and harness the collective IQ of millions of individuals across the
Internet is simply amazing. Open-source searches for optimal
solutions and lowers the barriers to entry. Unencumbered by
commercial concerns, the open-source community focuses on writing
the best code possible. Open-source draws from the highest IQ’s on
the Internet, who compete in a friendly way to have their ideas
incorporated into the product. In the open-source world, respect is
the only form of currency.

Riding the wave of open-source, companies like Transvirtual
Technologies, with its Kaffe virtual machine, and grass-roots
organizations like the Hungry programmers, with their Japhar
virtual machine, are throwing the open-source gauntlet down at
Sun’s feet. How will Sun respond?

A related aspect of the open-source movement is free. Well,
first of all, the Java Development Kit is freely downloadable. The
Java Runtime Environment is freely available to be incorporated
into any software product. Sun also supplies to universities,
colleges, and primary/secondary schools at no charge, unlimited
site licenses for many of Sun’s popular software products written
in or using the Java software technology platform.

Sun has opened up the source code to its Jini spontaneous
networking technology. Sun has also opened up the Java
standardization process to non-licensees. Non-Java licensees can
help define new Java API’s across the spectrum of Java classes.
Businesses can use and modify, without charge, the Java source code
for commercial software development. Anyone is allowed to make
enhancements to the Java source code without turning those
enhancements over to Sun; thus, intellectual property rights are
maintained. Businesses can modify and freely share compatible
source code with other businesses. Sun also gives licensees the
right to package Java platform class libraries with virtual
machines from other licensees. Sun has also stopped collecting
up-front licensing fees from companies that want to use Java. Sun
is also allowing companies to make modifications to four base Java
class libraries: io, net, lang, and
util. Sun has also announced the free licensing and public
availability of source code for the award-winning Java WorkShop
development environment. The above technologies, PersonalJava, and
EmbeddedJava are all covered under an agreement called the SCSL
(Sun Community Software License). It is also rumored that Sun is
planning on making the source code to its Solaris computer
operating environment freely available as open-source.

Sun also announced widespread support for the open-source Linux
operating system on its UltraSPARC hardware line. Bill Joy, Sun’s
Chief Scientist, has said, “Most of the bright people don’t work
for you – no matter who you are. You need a strategy that allows
for innovation occurring elsewhere.” Sun has followed the Linux
model, made a play for ubiquity, and unleashed innovation within
the Java community. By opening up the Java source code, Sun has
enabled the next great garbage collection algorithm to possibly
emerge from some teenager in Japan or elsewhere around the

If anyone questions Sun’s commitment to Linux, let me provide
the following information. Sun has given a special early access
source code license of the Java 2 software technology platform to
the Blackdown Java-Linux porting team. Sun has provided two
software engineers, who have joined the porting effort and answer
technical questions. Sun has provided a JIT (just-in-time compiler)
binary to Blackdown that works on Intel’s x86 microprocessor
instruction set. Sun has provided a JCK (Java Compatibility testing
Kit) to test the Java-Linux JDK (Java Development Kit) and to
ensure that it passes all of Sun’s Java compatibility tests. Sun,
via their two software engineers, will be able to incorporate
patches and changes back into the source code tree. Sun has also
provided SPARC workstations to help the port along.

When I was a young man growing up in the United States, I used
to try to catch butterflies in the open meadows with a net. I would
fail miserably. By moving Java to an open-source model, Sun can
finally now use another ‘Net to catch those butterflies in the

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