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IBM Takes Stage with Sun to Discuss Open Source Java.

By Gavin Clarke

IBM Corp took its crusade for open source Java to the heart of the community yesterday, engaging in a cross-industry panel discussion at JavaOne.

Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technologies who helped ignite discussion over open source Java with an open letter to Sun on the subject, told JavaOne that innovation is slowing down, a fact he believes can be reversed by releasing Java code to the open source community.

Smith argued alternative cross-platform offerings to Java are now emerging, notably in the form of the open source Project Mono - an implementation of Microsoft Corp's .NET Framework and C Sharp language for Unix and Linux.

"You are seeing changes in the programming model with SOA, XML and WSDL. There's a new value proposition around Java that we don't have figured out. In the early days we knew how to build J2EE. The marriage with open source is going to be critical," Smith said.

"We are hitting an interesting inflexion point. We are seeing innovation in open source and the Java community. We want to see innovation come through at a more rapid pace," Smith said. "As we look forward, we want to see an open source Java married more with Java and other projects"

IBM has been criticized for failing to adequately explain its support for open sourcing of Java, and yesterday Sun's representatives appeared unconvinced by Smith's words. Rob Gingell, Sun vice president and fellow participating in the discussion, said bluntly: "If open source is the answer please tell me the problem."

Instead, Gingell, argued the community process - the Java Community Process - may not run efficiently, but this could be fixed without open sourcing the actual language itself to address this particular problem.

Smith said Sun's Java Test Compatibility Kits (TCKs) could be open sourced, as a step towards involving the community in quickly fixing bugs in the TCK - TCKs test implementations of Java, and any problems that are identified in these kits must be fixed through the Java Community Process (JCP).

The question of who should, or would, enforce compatibility of TCKs and Java itself is major stumbling block. The presence of a central specification, enforced by a single body, is largely responsible for helping enforce adherence to common standards which, in turn, has helped Java gain wide-spread acceptance. The JCP-certified testing has helped prevent forks, skews and fragmentation.

Panelist Brian Behlendorf, a director of the open source Apache Software Foundation (ASF), argued open source leads to ubiquity and that the creation of derivative versions of Java would be a natural process in open sourcing the language. "You are going to have intermediate works that are not going to be compatible - as long as they are labeled as not being compatible," Behlendorf said.

Co-panelist and Java father James Gosling warned of the dangers caused by fragmentation that could arise from open sourcing Java, pointing to the historic problems with Unix and problems inherent in Linux today - many applications are not portable across Linux brands because of architectural differences present in competing distributions' of Linux.

Gosling said of Linux: "They have all these distributions again, they are really close, really close, but they are just not interoperable enough to be a pain in the butt."

Analyst James Governor, principal analyst with RedMonk, and Java user Justin Shaffer, director of operations for, both expressed support for the current status quo, supporting both the JCP and Sun's stewardship of Java.

Paraphrasing former British prime minister Winston Churchill's comments on democracy, Governor said - to applause from JavaOne delegates: "It seems Sun stewardship of the JCP maybe the worst governance mode, but it's the best we've tried."

Shaffer was concerned over the impact on business users of open source Java and alterations to the JCP: "Why take something that's working very well and put it at risk?"

Summing, up Governor cautioned it best to separate the debate of the merits of open sourcing Java from the personalities involved. "People [can] make unguarded statements. Often times it seems the Java community is mature. You need to remove the personalities in order to step forward. That's something some of the leaders here might want to bear in mind," Governor said.
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Author:Clarke, Gavin
Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 2, 2004
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