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Sun to open source Java - eventually

NetBeans, Zander lend a hand

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JavaOne Sun Microsystems has pledged to open source Java if individual developers, rather than corporations, sign-up to the Java Community Process (JCP) and also adopt Sun's NetBeans development environment.

Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz and newly recruited software chief Rich Green opened the annual JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco, California, saying it's not a matter of "whether, but how" Sun open sources Java.

Green stressed it would be important to preserve Java's cross-platform portability and to prevent fragmentation. "The flip side is compatibility really matters. One of the great values of Java is you can keep it together and rely on its consistency and evolution. The challenge is to how to solve both," Green said.

No date has been set for open sourcing Java but Sun is anxious to get more developers involved in the JCP and using NetBeans to get their feedback. "This has to be done as a group and the community process is critical," Green said.

In an apparent step towards open source, Schwartz announced Sun has updated licensing for distribution of Java Standard Edition (Java SE) 5.0 with GNU/Linux. The Distro License for Java (DLJ) specifically allows the Java Development Kit (JDK) and Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to ship as installation packages, and has received backing from the Ubuntu, Debian and Gentoo distributions.

Also on the agenda, is Ubuntu running on Sun's Niagara T1 hardware with support from Sun, Schwartz said.

The company's commitment came wrapped in a bundle of announcements and statements intended to prove Sun's credentials as an open source and Linux supporter under Schwartz, made during Schwartz's debut JavaOne performance as Sun CEO.

Schwartz acknowledged that the growth in Solaris service revenue - Sun has issued five million free licences for the operating system over the past year, had been an implicit factor in the change of heart.

"There are those companies that will not use Java without an OSI licence and they can now consider it," Schwartz said. "It simply grows the tent."

Schwartz used his appearance to rally developers to the JCP, the group that changes Java, by encouraging individuals to sign-up. The JCP is commonly known for its corporate membership, which includes heavy weights like BEA Systems, IBM and Nokia.

"This is not a heavyweight thing," Schwartz said of the JCP. "We want to make sure all of you have your voice heard. This is not about corporations defining development of a platform. This is about users."

With typical flair, Schwartz extracted messages of support for NetBeans from JBoss and Motorola claiming both are endorsing the open source integrated development environment (IDE) and programming framework.

While it's unclear the extent to which Motorola or JBoss are actually backing NetBeans, given the fact both are members of the Eclipse Foundation and using the rival Eclipse IDE, Schwartz pulled CEOs Ed Zander and Marc Fleury on stage to lend their backing.

Schwartz even grabbed the chance for a sneaky photo opportunity with Fleury, by pinning an "I 'heart' NetBeans" T-shirt on the clearly surprised executive - an outspoken critic of Sun's Java strategy in past years. Sun claimed 100 partners signed up to NetBeans in the last nine months, including AMD, eBay and Amazon.

Sun is beefing up its NetBeans' appeal with new tools. This includes software for protocol-level interoperability between Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 5.0 and Microsoft's .NET, devised under Project Tango between Sun and Microsoft, and tooling for new open source Sun middleware projects - announced at JavaOne. Sun is open sourcing its BPEL Engine and Java System Portal Server.

One market Sun is keen to embrace is developers building applications for mobile devices. Mobile device growth is outstripping PC shipments, at 200 million devices a year, according to Schwartz with Motorola alone shipping 90 million devices in six months.

Zander, Sun's former chief operating officer and president until 2002 before a surprise departure that helped accelerate Schwartz's career, said Motorola is "moving as fast as we can to a Java and Linux platform." He went on that Motorola needs Java developers to help ensure that Java remains compatible, to solve security and digital rights management, and to port more applications to the mobile platform.®

Reg Developer editor Martin Banks contributed to this report.

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