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Java IoT: Article

"No Sun Is An Island," Says Javalobby Founder

Rick Ross responds to ESR's Open Letter to Scott McNealy

  • Read Eric Raymond's Open Letter to Scott McNealy: "Let Java Go"
  • Read "Letting Java Go" - James Gosling in 2003 on Open-Sourcing Java

    As if driven by the cycles of the moon, it seems like the Java community gets a monthly visit from that special topic that divides and angers us more than any other: the question of whether Sun should "open source" Java? Most recently a top open source advocate named Eric Raymond (author of  The Cathedral And The Bazaar) published an open letter to Sun urging them to "Let Java Go." I have huge respect for the achievements of the open source community, but I tend to stay away from the pissing contests that these discussions about open sourcing Java often devolve into.

    I think the issue is something of a bugaboo, anyway. The source code for Java is readily available to anyone who accepts the Sun Community Source License (SCSL.) You can fix problems and submit patches to your heart's content. You can freely use the source code to better understand where problems in your own code are occurring, and you can also look to the Java source for useful examples and implementation patterns which you can emulate in your own code. Most of the technical benefits of source code availability are present to developers under the SCSL, and they are a very significant set of benefits. Furthermore, the Java Community Process (JCP) does a fine job of driving Java technology innovation in a balanced way that meets the needs and serves the interests of many vested participants. The problem definitely isn't that the source code to Java is unavailable or that the community has no voice in the platform's ongoing evolution.

    What you cannot get from the SCSL and JCP is any reason to trust Sun regarding the disposition of the Java brand, their ultimate lever of control. I hope I am not the only one who cringes every time I hear Java described as a product of Sun Microsystems. Java has long since transcended it's origins at Sun to become a globally preferred platform, an industry and a community powered by the tireless work of countless individuals and organizations. Java today is not much more a product of Sun Microsystems than the telephone is a product of AT&T. But the ownership and control of the Java[tm] BRAND is 100% firmly and resolutely in the hands of McNealy and crew, and that's why they are so utterly alone and without allies in the platform-level marketing of Java.

    Sun's over-insistence on total control of the Java brand has created a situation where nobody else is willing to help them with the general platform marketing of Java. Although this technology is useful and attractive to many strategic industry leaders, very few of them would be so naive as to place any trust in the goodwill and beneficence of Sun Microsystems, Inc. Why should Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Apple, Oracle, BEA or IBM expect Sun to do anything but look out for itself? Why should they invest valuable resources in the consumer marketing of Java platform advantages when they reasonably fear that Sun could turn a cold shoulder on them at any time?

    The simple answer is: they won't! They don't trust Sun, and they won't engage cooperatively as long as they feel that their resources would be invested for the benefit of a Sun-owned and Sun-controlled product brand name. I don't blame them. As long as they feel the risk that Sun could perform an about-face on key positions and start to charge usurious licensing fees (or even revoke licenses!) they will not invest in helping to increase the consumer appeal of the platform and drive its adoption. I have personally spoken with the CEO's and heads of marketing for dozens of Java industry players, and virtually none of them is willing to shoulder any of the load for marketing the benefits of the Java platform as long as they feel disenfranchised and powerless where strategic marketing decisions are involved. If Java is merely a product of Sun Microsystems, and the benefits of owning that product accrue exclusively to Sun, then why should any other company or organization devote any resources to helping with the consumer marketing of Java - marketing which Sun is apparently unable or unwilling to do?

    So there's no place where all the many interested parties invest and work together to ensure that our Java industry is strategically well-positioned against competitors. That's the real heart of the problem. Isolated Sun lacks the consumer marketing skills and budget resources to promote Java at the platform level the way the vastly more successful monopolist in Redmond promotes Windows. The core messages of Java, the ones that attracted most of you years ago, are no longer being marketed to the general public by anyone at all! Nobody is telling average people about the benefits of WORA and platform independence, freedom of choice in vendors, community-driven innovation, or Java's ease of learning and use. Without these core messages forming a foundation for consumer acceptance, we really don't have to worry about whether people will buy their Java products from Vendor A or Vendor B - they won't be buying Java products at all.

    Most consumers (you know, those people who will gladly pay $8.95 for funky little dolls that say "Intel Inside") do not have a clue what Java is or how it benefits them. Their lack of awareness is hurting you because average consumers are much more involved in the economic big picture than we typically give them credit for. It's making it harder for you to get a good Java job. It's making it harder to sell your Java-based products. It's increasing the risk that the Java job you now have will be gone in two years. Today, more than ever, we need to organize ourselves as an industry and engage in marketing efforts to cooperatively protect, sustain, and grow the market share of the Java platform.

    Eric Raymond has focused on the wrong issue. Making Java "open source" might placate a vocal contingent in the software development world, but it would not significantly raise consumer awareness and acceptance of our platform. I simply don't care all that much whether Java is "open sourced" because I don't consider that to be the central problem. I do, however, very much want to see the Java platform more competently and competitively marketed so that this great industry and community can grow and provide all of us with a foundation for thriving prosperity.

    The only way that will happen is for Sun to yield some control over the Java brand in the same way it has yielded a great deal of control over the platform api evolution. Sun needs to learn from its own success with JCP, and it needs to learn quickly. They simply cannot continue to go it alone on platform marketing. If McNealy can be shrewd enough to trade a modicum of control now in order to drive the formation of a Java industry marketing coalition, then the tide would rise for everyone in the Java world, and his shareholders would profit greatly. If Sun continues to doggedly insist on total control, then it will never be able to enlist the allies needed for success in such a daunting marketing challenge. Sun may retain 100% control, but everyone knows 100% of a marginalized market can be a lot less than a lion's share of a mainstream, successful industry.

    There's powerful magic in the Java platform, but we need more powerful resources than Sun alone can muster if this industry is ever to reach its full potential. I hope you'll join me in urging Sun to provide meaningful incentives to rally this industry into action and to create a cooperative industry alliance for Java platform marketing. Just as the dairy industry jointly funds the "Got Milk?" campaign, all of us in the Java industry need to work collectively to promote key messages that lay a foundation for consumer acceptance of Java and for our long term economic success.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Rick Ross
    [email protected]
    AIM or Yahoo Messenger: RickRossJL

  • To go to Javalobby to leave a comment at the Javalobby forums click here

  • More Stories By Rick Ross

    Rick Ross is the founder of Javalobby (www.javalobby.org). He is a frequent speaker at Java-related events and a well-known advocate for Java developer interests.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Wiil D Bates 02/20/04 03:55:59 AM EST

    Why open source Java. Sun have taken an object oriented interpreted language handy for running gui''s in a browser and turned it into the the most interoperable middle ware platform currently available. Sun has an excellent reputation in the industry for working with other industry vendors to achieve interoperable standards and the JCP is a good example of this as are the JDBC, JNDI, JMS, EJB, JDO as so on API specifications. It is easy to panic and start blaming Sun as the Microsoft marketing machine gains its inevitable momentum. For my money Sun invented Java have worked with industry vendors to expand it. Most of those vendors like IBM have made a hell of lot more money from Java than Sun. So if Sun want to keep it, then it is their choice. OS is supposed to be about innovation. If the OS is unhappy with Java then maybe beef up Python. I can not imagine Linus whining about not being able to get his hands on Windows code or Solaris code.

    Vinay Soni 02/19/04 10:33:01 PM EST

    Rick has described the situation very well. Here is my input:


    The problem with SUN is that they are traditionally a hardware company. This is a powerful new model for them however they are not sure where the money is going to come. This is the dicotomy of the situation. They are technically in control but the business model is absent.

    SUN wants Java to be the next best thing to sliced bread. Thats why they have raised the baby. However, they need financial returns too. In none of the emails I notice any regard or concern for SUN''s investment or ROI in the minds of Java users.

    Possible Solutions:

    Here is some simplistic thinkig:

    Are all individual Java developers willing to pay $10 US for the JDK they use?

    Are all commercial Java developers willing to pay $20 US for the JDK and they use?

    SUN could put a cap on these costs for next 10 years.

    The JRE could be free.

    Alternatively, SUN could start a "Registered Java Developer" program. The registration fee could be $10 / year. They could issue Java Cards (at cost) with some additional software.

    Some such thing would help SUN to create a revenue stream that can sustain there efforts to make Java a bigger success.

    Advice to Freebee lovers:

    In regards to open source, what stops a group of OS developers from starting JABA platform along the lines of Java?

    Open source is all about interest, love and commitment. If someone wanted to start it they would have by now. Why demand a gift from SUN? As a mater of fact Superwaba is a great J2ME like platform run by people who have wanted to do such a thing.

    Postgresql, JBoss and many others are doing it but have not asked any commercial entity to donate there hard earned wealth. So why now?

    ChiralSoftware 02/18/04 06:07:14 PM EST

    There are reasons why Sun can't open-source Java. I imagine the big one is patents. All large companies like Sun have cross-licensing agreements with all the other large companies in the areas they work in. All of these companies have hundred or thousands of patents, and they all know that fighting over patents in court is not the way they want to spend their resources, so they cross-license. Sun's lawyers have probably said (correctly) that some aspects of Java may be protected by some of these patents. There is a lot of innovative computer science going on in Java: virtual machines, JIT compilers, the HotSpot optimizer, and many others. By licensing something under the GPL, the licensor also grants royalty-free patent use, which Sun can't necessarily do because of cross licensing. So it's a mess. I believe the same issue affected BeOS.
    Similar issues apply to copyrights. I assume there are portions of the Java implementation which are copyrighted from other companies which have licensed to Sun, but do you think these agreements are compatible with Sun putting something out under GPL or BSD? I wouldn't think so.

    Spazmania 02/18/04 05:22:19 PM EST

    Java's major consumer right now is large-scale contractors. Particularly government contractors. You know, the folks who care about CMM3 and similar such stuff. Those folks couldn't care less about open source or closed source. The only thing that worries them about Java is Sun's stock price -- an indicator that Sun may not be around much longer.

    If Sun is missing the boat with those consumers, they're doing so in their failure to charge enough money for Java's use. These organizations have big budgets and could afford to pay Sun for Java if Sun could figure out how to ask.

    Sun has a choice to make with Java: They can keep 99% of a small market or they can keep 20%-30% of a market that's 10 times larger or more. They seem to have chosen the former, and their stock price reflects this.

    I have to disagree with ESR's letter on one point, though: The key problem with Java is not that it isn't open source. They key problem is that the presence of the runtime environment is not transparent to the user.

    If you're using a C program or a visual basic program or a fortran program or a just about any other kind of program, you don't know it and don't care. The program installed itself when you clicked on the install file or when you told the package manager to go get it. End of story.

    If you're running a Java program, you know it. You know it, because you had to go through Sun's specific Java installer, and read and agree to a massive click-through license. You had to do that even if the Java program came with a JRE.

    If Sun wants Java to become ubiquitous, they will have to give up the click-through license on the JRE and also give up control of the installer for the JRE. No other language's runtime libraries require such a ridiculous thing, and none should.

    Ogerman 02/18/04 05:13:00 PM EST

    The benefit to Sun of GPL'ing their Java implementation would be expansion of their market influence. Right now, there aren't very many open source Java apps (comparatively speaking). This would change rapidly if a complete JVM/JDK could be included legally with every Linux/BSD distribution. Complete adoption of Java by the Open Source community would mean a sharp rise in the popularity of the language and this would help Sun tremendously.

    Keep in mind that if Sun GPL'ed their Java implementations, it would not mean a true loss of control. They would still own the Java and related trademarks. So even if somebody forked Sun's GPL code, it couldn't be called Java. And, in like manner, Sun would still control the specifications defining what "Java" is -- they would still have the right to certify what is and is not "Java". In reality, the situation would be no different than today, where 3rd parties are welcome to write their own Java implementations using the open specification.

    Lysol 02/18/04 05:09:56 PM EST

    Yah, honestly, I don't know how OS'ing Java would help.

    While the JCP isn't as loose as developing the Linux kernel and other OS projects, it still has contributions from the major industry players - who have a vested interest to see Java go forward, not back - as well as small companies and individuals.

    Proclaiming everything OS isn't necessairly the prize at the end of the day. If you look at MS's efforts to ECMAize .NET and C#, it still doesn't hold off the threat of patent infingement for Mono and dotGnu. MS can claim it's an open standard, but if the threat of litigation hangs over ones head, then it's probably safe to reason that developing a compatible version might not be a good thing to do.

    I love Free and Open Source software. In fact, I make a decent living working on projects that use it. And most, if not all, of my projects use Java as well. Personally, I don't think something like Java will gain any benefits from following the route ESR proposed. By setting the Java source code free will fragment it more than ever. And for an industry that needs to hold off MS as much as possible, I think this would be a bad move.

    JavaCreator 02/18/04 04:50:24 PM EST

    If you actually look at the Java Desktop you will see that Sun has actually added some significant design features to the open src. stack. The community will benefit from this work. It's also naive to assume that Sun won''t be adding additional features to the desktop and giving those back to the community as well... In addition Open Office is a fairly hefty piece of IP that Sun has delivered into the community. NetBeans is as well - there are companies that have picked up the NetBeans framework and have built products based on the code - just as Sun has done. Sun continues to contribute code back into the NetBeans community base. The JAX* RI's are other examples (as was NFS, but then I date myself...)

    ragnar 02/18/04 04:46:09 PM EST

    I think Sun has done many a good thing for the open source community (whatever that means). They gave Tomcat to the apache group and they also contribute programmers to the effort. After purchase StarOffice they made the source available from OpenOffice.org.

    As for the issue of competing with the Jakarta group, I don''t see it that way. Struts "competes" with Tapestry and Turbine, other MVC frameworks already hosted within Jakarta. When you seek to hire people, you try to get the best talent you can afford.

    jg21 02/18/04 04:44:01 PM EST

    I like Ross's final paragraph: "There's powerful magic in the Java platform, but we need more powerful resources than Sun alone can muster if this industry is ever to reach its full potential. I hope you'll join me in urging Sun to provide meaningful incentives to rally this industry into action and to create a cooperative industry alliance for Java platform marketing. Just as the dairy industry jointly funds the "Got Milk?" campaign, all of us in the Java industry need to work collectively to promote key messages that lay a foundation for consumer acceptance of Java and for our long term economic success."

    Got Java? has a ring to it!!!

    rbird76 02/18/04 04:40:01 PM EST

    If Sun is a 'friend of open source' then perhaps someone will explain being why Sun paid SCO $8M for a worthless SCO licence (along with Microsoft, themselves no friend of OS). Paying that money has essentially funded SCO's attempt to discredit and/or destroy OS (Linux) by charging users for "intellectual property" that SCO claims it owns. The money has funded the bottomless FUD/BS machine that is Darl McBride and cronies. Either Sun is a friend of open source and was extraordinarily naive or Sun was behaving as an enemy of OS in helping SCO to poke holes in the tires of Linux in order to preserve its Solaris business. Or somewhere in between.

    If Sun's actions in the case of SCO are the behavior of a friend of OS, then either Sun is utterly clueless or their definition of "friend" is nonstandard.

    kfg 02/18/04 04:37:24 PM EST

    I think that Java and C# both have their genesis in commercial aspirations, rather than technical. They both are, and will continue to grow more so, odd, kludgy and crufty languages that blow with whatever trend is now fasionable, wholely for the benefit of their companies.

    Personally I wouldn't hitch too many of my horses to either one of them.

    That is what I think.


    jdtanner 02/18/04 04:36:38 PM EST

    I know Mono is quite a young language (if you exclude the work done on c#) but I think that Sun should be wary.

    I moved from Java to Mono/c# recently and I don''t think I''ll be going back.

    Don''t know what anyone else thinks?

    dmeranda 02/18/04 04:35:46 PM EST

    Just because Sun may be doing a good job, doesn''t mean that we can ignore the technicalities.

    Stewardship is an important issue, a very important one actually. But there are still those sticky semi-legal points which can''t be completely ignored. In this respect RMS, and to a lesser extent ESR, both are our stewards of Free Software. Compare this to other important commercial "stewardships", such as Postscript and PDF as managed by Adobe. Those "standards" are completely under the control of Adobe, but aside from some recent DMCA nonsense, they''ve been very good stewards from a technical perspective. I mean compare Postscript with HP''s PCL...which one has served Open Source/Free Software better?

    But I think the Free Software community should hold higher standards of Freedom to language technologies like Java, whereas we may be willing to give a little more slack to data formats like PDF. But you know what, if Adobe stopped being good stewards then we''d be in trouble. Same for Java, only moreso. That''s the threat ESR is trying to address.

    B''Trey 02/18/04 04:32:51 PM EST

    Sun is as much a hardware company as it is a software company.

    Mandrake, Lindows, etc are new companies trying to start up with an open source model. I believe something like 75% of new restaurants go out of business in the first year. That doesn''t mean that the restaurant is an unsupportable business model. Not every company that trys to link its success to the open source business model is going to succeed. That doesn''t mean that none of them are going to succeed.

    The question is, does going completely open source make sense for Sun? Since I''ve never founded or run a multi-million dollar business, my opinion is probably a bit suspect but it seems like it makes sense to me. In fact, it seems like Sun''s only hope is something along those lines. Their current course is simply going to continue them along their slow slide into obscurity.

    tromey 02/18/04 04:24:58 PM EST

    Speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time implementing Free Java:

    It would be convenient if Sun released all their
    source under a free or open license. That would
    be a huge help, it would really speed things along.

    It isn''t really necessary, however. The necessary
    parts are much smaller.

    First, access to the TCK would be very useful.
    To my knowledge no free implementation has ever
    been run against the TCK; Sun has not ever made
    it available under terms acceptable to free
    software developers. (E.g., requiring a Sun
    license or otherwise making us give up our
    "cleanroom" status is not acceptable.)

    Second, allowing Free Java developers to participate
    in the JCP would be nice. My understanding
    is that there are still legal barriers making
    this inadvisable.

    Finally, it would be useful if Sun recognized
    the reality of free software development,
    namely that we are likely to have to subset
    the platform temporarily, simply due to lack
    of manpower to implement the whole thing in
    one big release.

    Generally speaking, Sun has done a pretty good
    job of stewardship, and things move closer to
    openness every year. There''s just a few short
    steps remaining.

    herrvinny 02/18/04 04:23:37 PM EST

    I thought Sun was pretty good about Java. I've been writing in Java for a long time now, and I like it a lot.

    The only gripe I have is that a lot of systems don''t have the newer Java 2 VM (it's been out for a few years now, people, update your VM already). A lot of people are still operating with the older standard, so I have to keep the older JDK 1.1.8 development kit around. Sun, if you're reading, launch an ad blitz, educate the nontechnical to visit java.com and grab an updated VM. And make sure you hit some of the "neglected" computer users too, such as school districts. Perhaps press a few million CDs with the Java VM and offer to mail them for free, or reduced postage?

    The Java of today is much better than the perceptions of many developers. Java is decently fast, the Swing packages offer a lot of flexibility, i/o support is terrific, etc.

    Just one last plea: PLEASE, SUN, stop labeling everything you sell Java. You're diluting the brand.

    barcodez 02/18/04 04:22:49 PM EST

    I think Sun want to do the right thing - I think they think they are doing the right thing - they clearly have a way to go.

    Here's an example.

    JSF (Java Server Faces)

    This is a MVC based framework used in presentation tiers in Java (mostly web based).

    Now what Sun did was hire the project lead from Jakarta''s Structs to write the spec and an implementation of JSF.

    JSF is a direct competitor to Structs! If a Jakarta was a company this would be an incredible agressive tactic. Hire the project lead and get him/her to develop a new more featureful version of his old product.

    bstadil 02/18/04 04:18:50 PM EST

    Eric was on The Linuxshow last night where his letter to Sun was discussed. The point of his open letter was a follow-up to Sun's comment that they were a "friend of Open source". There is no metric for what it takes to be a Friend and Eric wanted to put a stake in the ground for what this would entail.

    The OpenSource / Torvalds creed of "Show me".

    Please note that there is no accusations in Eric's letter. It would have been easy to include the SCO/ Sun tie but he refrained from doing so.

    [email protected]@@progbits...com 02/18/04 04:15:47 PM EST

    What is the problem? There is already implementations of Java that are OpenSource. All the specs are open, and allow for this.

    Just because Sun doesn't want to open up their code itself doesn't mean that Java can't be open source.

    Mono/C# are interesting, but I want to see C# in a couple years when Microsoft is looking for more ways to make money. All it will take is a little twist and Mono/C# will be a different implementation of C# than MS version. At that point, which one would be "Correct".

    Microsoft tried this with Java. They failed because Java is held by Sun. Multiple OS's are what Sun wants for Java. They could have made a Java that ONLY worked on Solaris, but they didn't.

    Again, I ask, what is the problem?

    P.S. I am not a Sun Employee, I am an Open Source volunteer for OpenOffice.org.

    dmeranda 02/18/04 04:14:36 PM EST

    Sun should make Java free software, not open source. If they made if Free Software, rather than the weaker Open Source, then the defense-against-MS argument would be moot as well. Face it, it's not really so much about protecting Java against MS's "innovations" as it is Sun being control freaks and wanting to be the sole owner of what's becoming a very important community asset. So yes, open sourcing it makes no sense for Sun, but FREE-SOURCING it makes a lot of sense and is the right thing to do.

    clandaith 02/18/04 04:13:29 PM EST

    Jonathan Schwartz came to the Utah Java Users Group in January (We got him out here with free tickets to the Sundance Film Festival.). He asked if people felt that Java should be open sourced. About half the audience raised their hands, myself included.

    He said that it wouldn't happen because Sun didn't want to see multiple versions of Java out there. If MS went and changed some things in Sun's Java and then started to bundle their version of Java with Windows, who knows what will happen.

    We will start to see different versions of Java. People will start to think that the MS version of Java is the actual "real" Java and get mad when someone writes a Java program using Sun's version of Java.

    Then, MS will be able to start to dictate what goes in Java, or they will just stop following Sun's vison of Java and go on their own merry way.

    He gave more reasons and it convinced me that it really wasn't that great of an idea to open source Java.

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