February 26, 2004

IBM, Sun meeting to discuss open source Java

Author: Chris Preimesberger

Sun Microsystems is moving quicker than it originally said it would to respond to IBM's challenge that it set Java free in the open source world. Chief Engineer Rob Gingell and other Sun executives may meet with their Big Blue counterparts as early as today (Friday) to take the dialogue a step further, a Sun spokesman said.

Sun said Thursday it would need a few days to consider IBM's challenge proposal and provide a complete response. However, things have been changed, and a meeting has now been arranged between key decision-makers of both companies.

Even though the high-level discussion may have begun, Sun will release no official statement on it today, a spokeswoman told NewsForge.

In an email message to Gingell Wednesday night, IBM evangelist Rod Smith challenged Sun to help create an

independent group to develop an open source implementation of Java -- something both the Java and open source

development communities have been requesting for years.

"Rob takes what Rod says very seriously, so he's changing his schedule in order to get a response out as quickly as

possible, but we're not going to have an answer for such a key strategic issue as this in 24 hours," Sun's

spokeswoman said.

Smith -- who used to work for Sun -- cited a recent eWeek article in which Sun evangelist Simon

Phipps -- who used to work for IBM -- asked: "Why hasn't IBM given its implementation of Java to the open-source


"Simon's comment appears to be an offer to jointly work toward this common goal," Smith wrote in the email

message. "IBM is a strong supporter of the open-source community, and we believe that a first-class open source

Java implementation would further enhance Java's position in the industry by spurring growth of new applications and

encouraging new innovation in the Java platform."

IBM and other companies -- not to mention many enterprise developers who work in the open source community --

have been asking Sun for years to open up Java, mainly for the reason cited above: encouraging innovation. Other journalists and analysts believe that an

open-sourced Java will give Sun much more mileage than that; by releasing its No. 1 technology, they say, Sun could

completely reverse a negative image to developers -- mainly for its difficult, and, some say, one-sided licensing

practices. This would improve its public relations and put it far ahead of chief rival Microsoft in the eyes of developers.

Smith also wrote: "Sun's strong commitment to open-source Java would speed the development of a first-class and

compatible open-source Java implementation to the benefit of our customers and the industry. IBM is ready to provide

technical resources and code for the open-source Java implementation while Sun provides the open-source

community with Sun materials, including Java specifications, tests and code. We are firmly convinced the

open-source community would rally around this effort and make substantial contributions as well."

Creating an open source Java would almost certainly speed up the adoption of Java-based Web services and

service-oriented architecture. Java already is the de facto enterprise platform; the Gartner Group and IDG both

estimate it to be used in 60 percent of all enterprises. An open source boost would really send it up the charts.

"I am convinced that the creation of an open-source implementation of the Java environment would be of enormous

importance to the developer community and our industry's collective customers," Smith wrote. "It would open a whole

world of opportunity for new applications and growth of the Java community."

Sun's first answer to this challenge three years ago was the Bill

Joy-championed Project JXTA, a set of Java-based, open source

peer-to-peer protocols that allows any connected device on the network to communicate and collaborate with each

other (such as PC to PDA, cell phone to PC, PDA to server, etc.). The JXTA community of developers numbers about

16,000, Sun said.

JXTA is a subset of Java, but it is not Java. At the time, the move was applauded by the open source community, but

there was some residual frustration at Sun.

If history is any indication, Gingell will reiterate the standard company line: Java is the Sun software franchise, and

you don't give away the franchise. However, if Gingell and Sun decide to do something radical and agree to open

source Java, it would mark an important turning point in the history of the 22-year-old company.

Smith's email was just the latest in a series of "open letter" email challenges that key executives at the two

companies have been sending.

On January 21, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun executive vice president for software, posted an open letter to IBM on Sun's

Web site, inviting Big Blue to purchase Sun's Linux-based Sun Java Desktop System for IBM employees.

Schwartz said IBM, in an internal memo, challenged its own IT organization and all of the company to move to a

Linux-based desktop before the end of 2005, so he offered the existing JDS as a solution.


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