June 29, 2004

Why Sun will open code for new 3D desktop

Author: Chris Preimesberger

SAN FRANCISCO -- Reaffirming its role as the "benevolent guardian" of the far-ranging Java franchise, Sun Microsystems nonetheless continues to, in effect, tease enterprise developers and IT managers by opening the code of selected products. But not Java itself -- yet, anyway.

Earlier this month, new Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz promised that the company would open the Solaris operating system to the community. The company is busy doing that now -- there are more than 20 million lines of code in the entire system -- but it has announced no timetable for its release.

This week, Sun announced it is opening the code for its new 3D desktop software included in the newest version of the Linux-based Java Desktop System. Called Project Looking Glass, the software allows users to turn open windows and folders on the desktop on their sides -- and shrink them down to tiny sizes -- to open additional space on the desktop without having to close the window. Looking Glass works with Linux, Solaris, and Java applications running in the X Window System.

Sun said the SDK will be available in a month or so and expects the open source community to lead the way on coming up with new features.

Senior staff engineer Hideya Kawahara, chief architect of the Looking Glass portion of the desktop, joined Sun Chairman Scott McNealy on stage Tuesday to demonstrate some of the features he brought to life while working away late at night at his workstation.

"I'm just a geek," Kawahara said. "I believed that 3D would be the next user interface, so that's why I started working on this project in my spare time on the side."

Kawahara said that he worked two hours a day for more than a year, including weekends, to build Looking Glass. He said he took no vacations and even risked his relationship with his girl friend to get the job done. "I knew Microsoft and Apple were designing next-generation desktops, so I searched the Web about Linux, and couldn't find anything that had this, so I figured this is what I could do to (help) advance Linux," he said.

A Sun spokeswoman told NewsForge that she was somewhat surprised the company was releasing the Looking Glass code. "The company could have made a lot of money on this, I would think," she said.

One thing that is still not heading for the open source community is Java, even though Sun and IBM have been having informal talks about how this might be arranged.

"Somebody has to be in charge (of the Java franchise)," McNealy told 14,000 JavaOne conference attendees in Tuesday's keynote address at the Moscone Center. "Or nobody's in charge. We are the benevolent guardian of Java. I think we're doing a reasonable job, don't you? We've had an unwavering stewardship of Java all these years, and now it's paying off. We have a great community in the Java Community Process. Java's everywhere, and continuing to grow in many areas -- some of which we hadn't even dreamed of 10 years ago."

Sun Vice President of Java Web Services Mark Bauhaus told NewsForge that "Java's No. 1 value is compatibility. We want to release source code in situations that make sense for both Sun and the community. We don't want to see Java splintered into all kinds of forms; in fact, many customers of ours do not want to see it released.

"A high number of customers don't want to fiddle around with the kernel, and urge us not to release it. On the other hand, there are some -- a few -- very vocal people -- mostly on Wall Street -- who want it opened for their own application purposes. It's a hard call right now."

Thursday's conference schedule includes a panel discussion on the pros and cons of opening the Java code. Sun senior engineer and fellow Dr. James Gosling, Stanford University law Prof. Lawrence Lessig, Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Networks, Brian Behlendorf of Apache Foundation, and Rod Smith of IBM will among the panelists. NewsForge will be there to report on it.


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