IBM gets 10 years under Sun

Re-licenses Java with x86 twist

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After years of posturing to become spiritual leader of the Java community, IBM has renewed its existing 10 year license deal with Sun Microsystems to use Java.

IBM and Sun jointly announced Monday that IBM would license Java for servers, desktops, mobile devices and smart cards until the year 2016, once the companies' current 10-year license expires next year. How much IBM is paying Sun for the right to use Java was not revealed.

The companies also announced IBM will port its DB2, Rational, Tivoli and WebSphere middleware to Solaris 10 running on x64 AMD Opteron-based hardware. IBM plans to update products with the next releases, starting with WebSphere.

Pressure from customers, notably General Motors who need a simplified approach to managing and running large mixed environments, was cited as the reason for IBM's decision to put its middleware on Solaris/Opteron.

Robert LeBlanc, general manager for WebSphere, said the agreements were negotiated together, but side stepped the question of whether IBM's renewed Java license was contingent upon its putting the popular middleware stack on Solaris/Opteron.

"We didn't want to negotiate 10 different things individually. We put them altogether to understand what it was we were trying to achieve in the Sun/IBM relationship," LeBlanc said.

The IBM/Sun agreement, announced on the first day of Sun's JavaOne 2005 conference in San Francisco, follows years of increasingly frosty relations between the two companies, over the right to lead the Java community.

One bone of contention for IBM has been Sun's power to veto changes to Java that are suggested by the Java Community Process (JCP), a veto that is justified more by Sun's history as the inventor of Java rather than any force Sun might have through market share. For example, IBM is the market leader in Java application servers while Sun occupies single figures.

IBM has worked to undermine Sun's position using community organizations. Notably, IBM created the provocatively named Eclipse Foundation, which was originally intended to build a Java and C++ tools framework and which has since succeeded in outpacing Sun's NetBeans in terms of support.

IBM last year sought to mobilize the community with calls to open source Java - a suggestion that was flatly, even angrily, rejected by Sun chairman and chief executive Scott McNealy. Opening JavaOne, Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz told JavaOne: "We had a little bit of a chill in our relationship with IBM."

LeBlanc, though, said it was important that IBM and Sun acted in unison on Java, instead of going off in directions and allowing the industry to fragment.

Licensing of Java also ensures IBM retains the right to use the latest versions of Java, and not be stuck with a dated implementation - as happened to Microsoft during the 1990s once it broke the terms of its agreement with Sun.

"We have access to the innovation and the community. That's the important thing - having those people collectively to drive the platform forward," LeBlanc said

It would seem, though, that IBM also had serious interest in support for its middleware on Solaris/Opteron. The deal rounds-out IBM's ability to sell to companies running mixed computing environments, which feature Solaris 10, while also helping IBM's middleware take business from Sun customers on Solaris.

"The Solaris business is large.... We have to look at that in some broader perspective," LeBlanc said.

That's a big change of heart from earlier this year when IBM flatly rejected the idea of porting its software to Sun's Opteron servers despite very public pressure from Sun to do so.

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