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Open source Java - one year later

Plus ça change

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A year ago this week Sun finally bowed to pressure and agreed to make Java a free, open source project. It was an odd move given Sun's strong resistance to making Java open source for a more than a decade.

Twelve months on, open source Java has made things a little easier for developers and attracted some expressions of support. It's notable, though, that no industry events have been arranged to celebrate the date while Sun's tools and runtimes continue to search for a role among Java developers.

Getting to open source was a long road. As late as 2004 co-founder and former chief executive Scott McNealy insisted Sun had no plans to make Java open source. He argued that only Sun could protect Java's integrity as a universal, cross-platform language and that the open source process could lead to fragmentation.

Less than two years later, McNealy's successor Jonathan Schwartz described the open source move as "momentous". It's amazing what a change of leadership can do. The choice of McNealy's birthday as the date of the open source announcement was, surely, coincidence.

While he had led Sun successfully from 1984, McNealy's last few years as CEO saw substantial losses, staff lay-offs and factory closures. And, despite birthing Java, Sun's own technological and business ineptitudes (here and here) had seen Sun's software overtaken by others in quality and user numbers.

Something had to give.

With Schwartz - formerly, and briefly, in charge of Sun's software business - now running the show, part of the long-overdue changes involved switching Java to open source. It was a move that was - mostly - welcomed, although Sun's decision to release the Java source using the GPL 2 licence was criticized.

There was also some collateral damage in the loss of a couple of senior executives who were not convinced of the strategic merit of open source. Sun fellow and Java chief Graham Hamilton left because he disagreed with the move. And Larry Singer, Sun's vice president of global information systems strategy, revealed recently he also left because, among other reasons, he disagreed with Schwartz over the open source strategy.

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