For as long as open source has been a household name, developers have clamoured for Sun to release the Java platform into the open source landscape. Sun, meanwhile, has steadfastly maintained its stewardship over the platform, playing the part of the benevolent dictator to a tee. That isn’t to say that Sun is unmoved by the continued demands for greater openness in Java, and recent events prove that they are listening!
Just over a week ago, Sun released the source code to Java 5.0 under a new, simpler license for research use. The license defines research use as “research, evaluation, or development for the purpose of advancing knowledge, teaching, learning, or customizing the Technology or Modifications for personal use.”
Under this license, you can actually get the code for Java’s base classes (not just the standard Java APIs that use them), and the native C code for the Java Virtual Machine on each of the platforms where Java can run. Now developers who have always craved making improvements to the way Java works deep down can get to work. Should their efforts prove worthwhile, I would expect Sun to consider rolling any improvements into the official releases. The license simply ensures developers can’t make money from such work.
Okay, so I’ll admit this is a bit yawn-worthy to Web developers like you and me, which is why I didn’t report on it when it happened. Today, however, Sun announced that it would offer source code and compiled versions of Java 6.0 (codenamed Mustang) throughout its development, beginning with the first snapshots, available now. Java 6.0 isn’t due for release until 2006, but Sun plans to let us follow the technology every step of the way!
So yeah, if you ask me, Java is closer to open source than any other “closed” technology. The question becomes, is that enough?
In a Macworld UK article, Onno Kluyt, chairman of the Java Community Process (JCP), which lets developers participate in writing the specs for future Java platform versions, was quoted as asking “What do you think [the open sourcing of Java] does that people can’t do today?”
The conversation has been running hot at Javalobby.org. I was particularly impressed by Bruno Souza’s post where he described many of the factors that led his organization to invest in a project to produce independently an open source version of Java. His point that governments don’t want to rely on a technology that the United States may choose to place under trade embargo in the future was particularly insightful, I thought.
Whether you believe open sourcing Java would benefit you or not, one look at the Viva website should convince you that a lot of work is being done in this area. Whether Sun eventually adopts an open source development model for its version of Java or one of the independent projects listed on this site becomes a realistic alternative to Sun’s version, open source Java does seem to be an inevitable reality. What will you do with it?