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Flashback to '04: Gosling Says "Open-Sourcing Java Could Promote Interoperability"

Disparate Groups Would Find It Easiet to Align Behind One Code Base

"There's been a lot of churn lately over open letters from IBM and others calling for Sun to open source Java," wrote James Gosling last week in his java.net blog

"Rather than try to respond to everyone individually, I'll try to respond to a pile of questions here," he continues.

Specifically, he responds to five:

1. "Some have asked why IBM is sending open letters, rather than talking to us directly: asking if this isn't rather kindergarten-ish."

Gosling's answer: Well, yes: it does appear that way.


2. "Some have asked what IBM would get if Java were open-sourced: doesn't IBM already have the source?"

Gosling's answer: Again yes, they do have the source. It's also true that anyone can get the source. The major restriction is that if folks want to redistrubute their changes, they have to pass the test suite. Which means that about the only thing that they could get from liberalization is to be able to skip testing.

3. "Some of IBM's statements have essentially distilled down to 'we'd love to help: open-source Java so that we can.' This has led to questions about whether or not IBM has been able to help."

Gosling's answer: The answer is that they have. They're one of the strongest participants in the Java Community Process. Their participation over the years has been substantial, and we're very thankful for it. For example, IBM was the major mover that led to the creation of the Swing API to replace the AWT api. They contributed many engineers to the Swing team. Viewing that time in hindsight, it is more than slightly ironic that these days they're endorsing SWT, which is essentially a clone of the AWT architecture, which they had strongly condemmed back when the decision to create Swing was being debated.

4. "Some have asked when, given IBM's apparent zeal for open source, DB2 and WebSpere will be open sourced?"

Gosling's answer: Ask them, not me - it does seem unlikely.

5. "Most of the comments I've heard from folks about open sourcing Java have been negative."

Gosling's answer: Hmmm... Not so much negative as concerned: Developers value Java's cross platform interoperability and reliability. They're afraid that if Java is open-sourced then someone will try to fragment the community by creating incompatible versions of Java and ignore the community process, just like Microsoft did. Microsoft did a lot of damage to the community and many developers strongly do not want that to happen again.

Gosling leaves the Java community in no doubt of how seriously Sun is taking this whole discussion.

"This is a big issue for us," he writes. "If [his emphasis] we do something to make Java even more open-source than it is already, having safeguards to protect the developer community will be something we pay a lot of attention to."

"Carefully done," Gosling concludes, in a tantalizing final sentence, "open-sourcing could actually promote interoperability by making it easier for disparate groups to align behind one code base."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
TinyAcorns-MightyOaks 05/05/06 03:19:26 AM EDT

JAG is the Java authority within Sun, perhaps THE Java authority anywhere on earth. But what do the others behind the Oak Project all those years ago think about the open-sourcing of Java: has anyone asked Arthur Van Hoff or Andy Bechtolsheim?

JavaDan3 05/05/06 02:38:47 AM EDT

Isn't Gosling in Tokyo? Or South Africa? Or in Outer Space (Java runs the Mars Explorer)? How can he be joining this debate? Is he, like Java, now everywhere? "Gosling Everwhere" - I like it.

Peter van der Linden 05/05/04 03:47:07 PM EDT

OK, thanks for the reasons why people would like Java GPL''d.

That first one about "not being able to ship with Linux" would be a serious
problem, if it were accurate. However, as Nathar showed, 2 big distros currently ship Java without problems. As another example, Lindows shows
how Linux can ship without 100% gpl''d code.

The second point about Sun squashing new stuff puzzles me. What is wrong with the Java Community Process? Of course Sun is going to safeguard Java from ideas that will spoil it, such as destroying the ability to run on all architectures. However, compiling Swing (or any part of the run-time) to native seems like a pretty good idea to me. That can be done regardless of whether or not Java is GPL''d. After all, you have all the source.

Looking at the code taints you? I doubt that. Taints you from what? People often overstate the case for tainting. Can you provide any reference to cases decided in the legal system, as opposed to the urban legends that spread by word of mouth.

Java on the desktop almost died in the late 1990''s due to Microsoft''s efforts to fragment the language and fork Java. They were almost successful. Do you think they wouldn''t try again in a New York minute given half the chance? They could just do stealth-funding of 10 start-ups, with that as their goal. Stealth-funding was the approach Microsoft used to get SCO to attack Linux with FUD. SCO is almost out of business now, and their legal case is in the final stages before collapsing, but Microsoft has learned the lesson well.

I just don''t think that the risk/benefit tradeoffs are favorable to GPL''ing Java.

Nathar Leichoz 05/05/04 03:31:17 PM EDT

Problems solved by the GPL (as such)

a) Java can''''t be distributed as part of a Linux distribution unless it''''s bundled with every application that uses it. Also it would be illegal to distribute GCC in this circumstance.

Redhat ships Java

Slackware ships Java

Those Who Dont Remember History 05/02/04 08:13:02 PM EDT

Lest you forget, Sun has quite a history of open letters:

These pre-date IBM's letter.

Andrew Shuttlewood 05/02/04 05:41:37 PM EDT

Problems solved by the GPL (as such)

a) Java can''t be distributed as part of a Linux distribution unless it''s bundled with every application that uses it. Also it would be illegal to distribute GCC in this circumstance.

b) Sun can squash attempts to do new and interesting stuff with Java, such as ahead of time compilation (note how you can''t compile swing using java to native code, even off companies that OWN a license)

c) You can''t redistribute what there is in the source. Even looking at it taints you from developing similar code.

People don''t want to hack on the Java standard API because it''s under so many layers of restrictions, it''s certainly not open source in any means - it is purely source available.

If Sun want to do ''something'' that would be good, then they could open source Swing. Swing is (or so it seems) the suckiest, buggiest part of Java there is. Open-sourcing it certainly couldn''t hurt, and it might lead to some people fixing a large number of the bugs in it just for their own sanity. Sun could then fold these fixes into the main Java system.

Jason Bell 05/02/04 01:46:53 PM EDT

Alan Williamson, Jason Briggs and myself had this very same discussion during October/November 2002.

It can be only summed up by the following link:
(I''m the one in the orange top :))

Jason Bell

akme 05/02/04 01:21:04 PM EDT

Sun and IBM are just acting according to their organizational character. While they both promote innovation, Sun promotes its individual leaders while IBM promotes its collective action (creative, committee-forming Borg). While Java is open-source the JDK/API standards and management thereof are in Sun''s control, and that''s where IBM would like more of a partner role on equal footing for management of the API. Management by committee is always slower than by a single leader but running JCP has already opened that issue. The statement about "increasing marketplace acceptance of Java" is ridiculous -- Java is already the standard choice for most non-MS development unless you need the power of C/Objective-C/C++ or you find value in other langusges such as Python.

While Java was invented by people at Sun, it has now matured enough to leave home, go out into the world and extend its family ties.

Peter van der Linden 05/02/04 01:07:41 PM EDT

There''s a lot of sound and fury around this issue. But no one has yet given a convincing answer to the question "what problem is solved by putting Java under the GPL?" So, what problem would that solve?

Every Java compiler kit already comes with the complete source code for the run-time library, so you can fix all the bugs you want. So what''s stopping you?

I don''t understand the suggestion that open-sourcing Java would be somehow a "response to Mono". What specifically would happen, that cannot happen today? The Mono project is doomed. Either it fizzles out on its own like most open source projects, or it becomes wildly successful and Microsoft kills it either by enforcing its patents or by bribing the developement team to
join Microsoft (as they did with Borland and Anders Heljberg).

Nothing stops all "bytecode compilers" (whatever that means) from using the Java core libraries today. They are just libraries. Download them and use them all you want.

So let''s have an end to the woolly wishful thinking, and lets get a clear statement of what you would get if Java was GPL''d, that you don''t have today, given that you already have access to all the run-time source. Thanks.

jshore 05/02/04 11:16:41 AM EDT

Sun doesn''t get it. Neither do the most vocal open source advocates. The main reason why Java needs to be open sourced is not about "freedom", but rather that the community at large finally has the ability to move Java along: fix problems and make it competitive with the .NET platform environment.

Java has largely stagnated as a language and an environment:

- fundamental libraries a mess
- java plugin / applet ceded market dominance to flash
- UI implementation buggy and backward

It took the .NET threat for Sun to get off their butt. Still, the environment. Fact is, Java is a losing proposition in Sun''s hands. They''ve shown over the years that they are poor caretakers.

PCM2 05/02/04 06:33:33 AM EDT

I think -- and I''m really serious -- Sun should probably be looking at open sourcing Java as a response to Mono, if for no other reason.

Miguel and Ximian took a look at Java and decided it didn''t suit their needs, as far as developing rich desktop applications for Linux (e.g. Evolution). So rather than use Java, they decided it was actually better to implement the .Net environment themselves, from scratch. To me, that sounds like a fairly heavy indictment, and one that Sun should be looking into, if they''re smart.

Now you''ve got Mono humming right along, with the developers busy implementing two distinct stacks: One that''s a Microsoft compatibility layer, for using all the stuff you might have written with Visual Studio, and another that''s more Linux-oriented, with GNOME and GTK bindings, Linux printing architecture support, and so on -- the kind of things that people hope would come of an open-sourced Java.

If Sun doesn''t care about this, they''ve got more problems than I realized.

The Java Trap 05/02/04 02:13:33 AM EDT

Gosling also says "even more open-source than it is already"... but Java isn''t open source at all according to RMS

spellraiser 05/02/04 02:11:07 AM EDT

Question from the article:

2. "Some have asked what IBM would get if Java were open-sourced: doesn''t IBM already have the source?"

Gosling''s answer: Again yes, they do have the source. It''s also true that anyone can get the source. The major restriction is that if folks want to redistrubute their changes, they have to pass the test suite. Which means that about the only thing that they could get from liberalization is to be able to skip testing.

So it doesn''t seem to be such a big issue after all. The source is already available, and all that is required to change it and redistribute it is to pass a standard suite of tests. Now, call me crazy, but I think that''s not A Bad Thing. This restriction is what helps Java to be uniform and platform-independent.

The benefits of making Java fully open source therefore seem overrated. Isn''t the availablity of the source most important? Or perhaps I''m misunderstanding something ...

WorthNoting 05/02/04 02:09:09 AM EDT

Gosling is the one who produced the first non-free version of emacs, which was a direct motivation for RMS to produce the GPL!

He also produced NeWS which was superior to X in almost every way... except... it wasn''t open either!

I''ve always thought that Java will become open source over Gosling''s cold dead body, but maybe he''ll prove me wrong.

Actually 05/02/04 02:07:45 AM EDT

By definition Gosling is not the father of Java. He was (and still is) a Sun employee and developed Java during that time, by today standards any product developed by an employee is property of the company, so even McNealy is the father, McNealy is just the obnoxious uncle that says weird things when is drunk.

Gosling was just a surrogate father.

BTW what happened to the other people around OAK project?, did sun killed all of them and throwed them into a ditch?.

NZHeretic 05/02/04 02:06:16 AM EDT

As I said over at Slashdot it would benefit the entire Java based industy, including the free software, open source and proprietary based vendors, to open license the core J2ME,J2SE,J2EE libraries and Java to bytecode compilers.
Java''s primary strength, the ability to write code which is constantly portable across many vendors platforms, would be greatly enhanced if all of vendors were using the same core libraries.

To insure that the standard base core would not become polluted with incompatable forks, the source could be licensed with a clause requiring any incompatable changes or any additional classes or methords to be moved to and occupy only the vendors namespace. Another clause would require that the vendor version of Java bytecode compiler and any GUI IDE defaults to generating portable bytecode, without embedding any vendor specific references.

The OSF definition of an open source license clause five explicitly states: "The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software."

Contributions to the core standard would be required to licensed under the same open source license. The existing JCP standard body could decide what becomes part of the Open Java Core. Sun would still retain the veto, and the Java J2ME, J2SE and J2EE brand would be still be protected under trademark law.

It should not be necessary to open source license Sun''s JVMs. In the long run it could greatly benefit Sun to develop the JVM under a dual license as it doing with OpenOffice.org and selling StarOffice

Quezztion 05/02/04 02:03:09 AM EDT

How will opening Java help Sun make more money?

java/jvm 05/02/04 01:57:45 AM EDT

I don''t think everyone understands java. Port the thing lately, and I think you will understand. A bit more input from the "community" needs to help evolve the black box. It doesn''t matter at that point if it''s sun, or the community. What does matter, is Sun has put a lot of resources into Java. Get involved, port the thing, then give input.

Chris Hubick 05/01/04 11:25:24 PM EDT

I am still waiting for Mr. Goslings comments to reflect some insight as to why thousands and thousands of developers believe in many of the ideals behind the Free Software Foundation. He either doesn''t understand /why/ Sun is being pushed - or just doesn''t want to tackle any philosophical or pragmatic issues of Freedom.

goslingsamoron 05/01/04 07:38:05 PM EDT

How ironic... all his carefully chosen questions and answers seem to be nothing more than "kindergarten-ish" indirect attacks on IBM.

bill gates 05/01/04 08:50:15 AM EDT

The SWT part is bullshit. That architecture is completely different between it and AWT. Gosling is a moron.

dastrike 04/30/04 04:03:43 PM EDT

There are Free open source implementations of Java already. Not quite up to the same level as Sun's offerings yet, but it is difficult to hit a moving target...

aJavaProfesssional 04/30/04 03:59:24 PM EDT

If Sun claims that their leadership is the best for Java, why hide behind the CONTROL that they have of it? How do they honestly know that they are the best stewards if people are not free to pursue a different direction. I can see how they want to lead people into their vision of cross platform, which I truly believe in and think will happen, but you can''t force it. It will happen when it happens, and I personally believe it will. If "we" need some more time to suffer the shackles of the hardware OS, there is no amount of screaming that Sun can do to bring about this change other than convincing more people of the need for it to happen so that more people bring it about. There are other more subtle ways to draw poeple into their vision while practicing "servant leadership" and actually discovering how and where people want to go before deciding it for them. Microsoft used to empower people with the openness of their architecture compared to Apple or even IBM, but now Linux has taken over that role as MS has started following their own shadow around trying to figure out where they want to go.

Gosling/Joy 04/30/04 03:56:55 PM EDT

where on EARTH you get that idea?? Gosling was part of a team that included many folks, take a look here for example.

Unclear 04/30/04 03:55:01 PM EDT

Who is the creator of Java?
Everyone knows it is Gosling, but for some reason Sun would have you believe Bill Joy did it. Why? Sun only acknowledges that Gosling "managed" those who created Java. So did Gosling manage Bill Joy as well? This makes no sense.

linuxislandsucks 04/30/04 03:52:14 PM EDT

You might want ot view my weblog post titled Gosling smoking weed..

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