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
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.