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IBM lobbies Sun in open source Java debate

Letters exchanged, views expressed

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The controversy surrounding the open sourcing of Java continues unabated, writes Bloor Research analyst Robin Bloor. Printed below is an open letter from Rod Smith (VP, Emerging Technogies, IBM Software Group) to Sun, suggesting that it should be made available to the open source community. Officially, the letter was sent to Sun's Chief Engineer Rob Gingell. The text has been very slightly edited:

Hi Rob,

This is an open letter to Sun.

I read a eWeek (February 5th) article in which Simon Phipps (Chief Technology Evangelist at Sun) was quoted on open source Java with quite a bit of interest.

In the article, Simon asked "Why hasn't IBM given its implementation of Java to the open-source community?" I'm sure you recall the discussion we had over dinner in December around open sourcing Java. Simon's comment appears to be an offer to jointly work towards this common goal. IBM is a strong supporter of the open source community and we believe that a first class open source Java implementation would further enhance Java's position in the industry by spurring growth of new applications and encouraging new innovation in the Java platform.

Here is the offer: IBM would like to work with Sun on an independent project to open source Java. Sun's strong commitment to open source Java would speed the development of a first class and compatible open source Java implementation to the benefit of our customers and the industry. IBM is ready to provide technical resources and code for the open source Java implementation while Sun provides the open source community with Sun materials including Java specifications, tests and code. We are firmly convinced the open source community would rally around this effort and make substantial contributions as well.

This would be a very exciting step for IBM and Sun. I am convinced that the creation of an open source implementation of the Java environment would be of enormous importance to the developer community and our industry's collective customers. It would open a whole world of opportunity for new applications and growth of the Java community. In addition, this would accelerate the growth and adoption of technologies that are built on Java and are critical to our customers today, including Web services and Service Oriented Architecture.



The reply from Rob Gingell - again, very slightly edited - reads:

Rod

What this means, according to IBM, is that IBM is willing to discuss open sourcing a subset of the Java language infrastructure, run time, and libraries (but not the whole of WebSphere).

In our view, this is an excellent idea, and something along these lines needs to happen in some way. Java has become the de facto development language of choice and while Sun, IBM, BEA and others need to keep hold of some of their proprietary software development jewels, open sourcing part of the Java platform makes eminent sense.



The problem is that IBM and Sun compete heavily with each other, so an Open Source arrangement that suits them both is difficult to arrive at. Also, once you let the Open Source genie out of the bottle, it will be impossible to get it back in.

The Java issue is particularly difficult for Sun, who, after all, gave the world Java, but had to tread a narrow line to popularize it without giving it away completely. Sun never reaped as much of the benefit that it had hoped for, but it did make Java stick. It will be interesting to see whether Simon Phipps, or anyone else at Sun responds to IBM's challenge.

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