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JavaOne Java will be going open source, Sun’s new vice president of Software, Rich Green, announced at JavaOne in San Francisco. “It is not a question of whether,” he said, “but a question of how.” The only real question on many lips, of course, was `when?’.

The answer to that is still very indistinct, with the closest Green getting being “as soon as possible.” What is holding up the timing is an issue that remains to be resolved. “There are two forces in play here,” he said. “One is to open up, and the other is the fact that compatibility really matters. We don’t want to see divergence.”

His first job since rejoining the company, therefore, will be to find a way to manage and control the potential for divergence that could be possible in an open environment. “It has to be done as a group to ensure that compatibility is maintained,” he added. “Open may be news, but a lot of developers consider it as potential bad news.”

So the time will be taken at examining a number of options in moving to open source. One possibility that has been suggested, moving Java to an independent body similar to the model adopted with Eclipse, is already being touted, and it is within Green’s thinking on the issue. But he suggested it might not be the best model for Sun to follow in this case. Another suggestion that will be scrutinised in this process is the idea of Sun licencing key elements of Java technology to other vendors so that compatibility can be maintained across niche platforms that are not of immediate interest to Sun itself.

The change in Sun’s position on open sourcing Java has a lot to do with the views of new president and CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, who acknowledged that the revenue growth in services surrounding Solaris, following the five million free licences of the operating system issued in the last year, had been an implicit factor.

“There are those companies that will not use Java without an OSI licence and they can now consider it,” he said. “It simply grows the tent.” And the key to this growth, he suggested, is the maintenance of compatibility. “Compatibility is why Java is so big, so the last thing we want to do is affect that. We have been approached by many companies to produce non-compatible versions of Java, but we are committed to compatibility. It grows the market.”

He also pointed to the fact that compatibility is about one word, `substitution’ and a lot of vendors don’t like that idea at all. “But substitution is the driver of competition,” he said. ®

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