Open source Java SE by year end

'Lawyers finish job' – well, nearly

There is now a timescale in place for the Standard Edition of Java, Java SE, to go open source.

Sun chief open source officer Simon Phipps said licence changes would occur in a sequence of updates to the code starting towards the end of this year.

As outlined here, making Java open has been something of a mare's nest of legal investigations and research, but now enough of the work has been done to start introducing open source-licensed code.

"We are still working on who owns what," Phipps said. "It is a problem that particularly stems from company acquisitions over the years, where it is difficult to ascertain whether we explicitly own the rights to change the licences."

He indicated that there are still some areas of the Java SE code base where the company is not certain it has sufficient legal rights to move the code to open source licensing, and the company may resort to using either its own engineering muscle to work round the problem areas, or work with others such as the Apache Harmony Project Group.

The company has been working with the Harmony and GNU Projects to build a greater Java SE community, and has already launched a portal as a community resource.

One of the markets where Java has been particularly successful has been in embedded systems, particularly in the mobile devices area, and Phipps noted that open source was now also having a significant impact in that marketplace.

With that in mind, he said the mobile edition, Java ME, is also expected to be launched with open source licensing at the end of this year. The next target after that will be Sun's extensive portfolio of middleware.

The primary issue with a switch to open source licensing is, of course, the fundamental change this brings in the way software vendors monetise their products. Phipps sees the change as a move to monetise at the point of value to the user and away from the point of acquisition from the vendor. He calls it the move from Software Model Version 2 to Version 3.

This still raises some unresolved questions, however, for he admitted that Sun execs are still deliberating over what mechanisms will be needed to determine what constitutes a "point of value" for a user, what happens when that point is reached, quantifying that value, and billing for it. In practice, Phipps sees monetising coming down to two main factors: the componentisation of products and the sale of expert services.

The former simply takes a previous "product", sold as a complete package, and breaks it down into components that can be purchased as required, so if you don't want the documentation you don't buy it. The latter is based on Sun gaining revenue from selling the expertise of its development staff to users, as and when they need it.

Phipps' own take on the background to the arrival of open source Java SE can be found in his blog. ®

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