Sun Dips Another Toe In The Open-Source Pond - InformationWeek

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8/14/2006
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Sun Dips Another Toe In The Open-Source Pond

Sun is working to turn parts of Java Standard Edition its programmers created into open-source code and hopes to make the rest available sometime next year.

Sun Microsystems plans to make open source by the end of the year those parts of Java Standard Edition that are unencumbered—that is, those that Sun knows were created with its own programming teams.

Java now consists of 6 million lines of code, with many contributions to the language, its compilers, and its virtual machine coming from outside Sun. Sun will release to open source code the parts that it has documented and can vouch for. At JavaOne in mid-May, Jonathan Schwartz as the new Sun CEO pledged that Java would become open source, saying at the time, "it wasn't a question of whether but how."

The remainder of the language that isn't made open source will be made available as compiled code, as is already the case for those who wish to download the Java Software Development Kit. Developers who want to work with an open source language will be able to proceed with projects if they have confidence that Sun will ultimately make the whole language open source. Compiled code can't be confused with open source. It's a sequence of ones and zeros that logic chips can understand, compared to the more English-like, alpha-numerics and punctuation marks of source code, which programmers can read.

Sun executive VP Rich Green and Laurie Tolson, VP of the Java Platform Group, announced the road map for making Java open source at the W Hotel in San Francisco on Monday.

All of Java ME, or Mobile Edition, used in Nokia and other smart phones will be made open source by the end of 2006, Green added.

But the public pressure is for Java Standard Edition, used by programmers for enterprise applications, to become open source. The Sun executives couldn't project a date by which all of Java Standard Edition will be open source. Sun will inspect the encumbered code, search libraries of open source code to compare look-alikes to the Java modules, and seek documentation from original authors before it releases the remaining code as open source. One worry is that what Sun seeks to release as open source code under its own license may actually be code governed by a different license, such as the one used to release Linux, the GPL. The GPL restricts the ability of adopters to take the open source and produce proprietary products with it. When Sun made Solaris open source, it left developers the option of producing commercial products based on OpenSolaris with its CDDL or Common Development and Distribution License.

Sun CTO Bob Brewin said after Green's announcement that the exact timeframe in which Java becomes open source can't be precisely determined. But he added he hopes "it will be within the year 2007"

Sun will have to track down the authors of the remaining modules of code or run the encumbered code past an automated inspection system that can compare a given piece of code to any that it resembles in a large open source library.

More firms have to exercise such scrutiny as they adopt elements of open source code into their enterprise projects. They are often producing code that goes into a product for sale, which open source licenses govern in varied ways, said Mark Tolliver, CEO of Palimida Inc., a supplier of source code checking software. Tolliver is a 10-year Sun veteran who ran its former iPlanet software division.

"With the explosion of open source, nobody is quite sure where the code came from anymore," he noted.

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