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5/22/2006
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Open-Source Java: What's It To You?

The real winner with any Java open-source scenario will be Sun, which has been scrambling to lower the prices of its products and services to compete with the likes of Linux and the Wintel crowd.

With all the posturing and PR around the announcement of Java going open source, key details are missing. Even more of a mystery is how this will help corporate Java customers going forward.Let's review: The key concept of Java, going back to its inception, was to help enterprises develop software in a saner fashion. The notion of "write once, deploy anywhere," though it had been much talked about, had never before been achieved in any kind of major commercially available environment.

Does Java work? Mostly, from what I hear. Sure, there are some glitches, but thanks to Java the idea of an environment that separates the run-time component from the core logic of an application is a reality. Sun has been selling Java for around 10 years now.

OK, so now that it's working, does a model for Java that's Linux-like make sense?

I have to wonder. On the one hand, now that Java is well-established in the corporate world, it's got a ready audience of people who will likely want to keep using it, or are locked into doing so, and so will be game for pretty much anything. Especially if it'll save them some money.

Keep in mind, though, that even with the open-source model, customers still need to pay for service and support. So although the core Java software itself will be free, that doesn't mean there aren't costs involved. Sunil Joshi, a Sun senior vice president, made this point last week when he said open source is "about making money," not about making a charitable donation to the IT industry.

Instead, he said, the idea is to "seed" Java open source with developers and for Sun and its partners to make money on the resulting Java "ecosystem."

There will be some cost benefit to customers, I'm sure, but at what price? I'm wondering if the other side of the coin will be a longer development cycle and more contention over what new features and functions will be included in subsequent generations of Java. My colleague Charles Babcock points out in his story, "7 Answers To Key Questions About Java's Move To Open Source," that Linux hasn't forked--in other words, that there hasn't been serious enough disagreement to cause two or more distinct development paths with Linux.

But that doesn't mean it won't happen with Java. Unlike Linux, which is just starting to make some serious money and become a major force in the corporate world, Java's got a lot of mouths to feed. I can only imagine the ensuing mud wrestling by the software vendors making their living off of and around Java.

I believe the real winner with any Java open-source scenario will be Sun, which has been scrambling to lower the prices of its products and services to compete with the likes of Linux and the Wintel crowd. That's the real motivation here, I believe.

And for what it's worth, I think the much bigger story was one that seemed to get lost in last week's other news events: Sun and Microsoft have collaborated on a set of Web services components for security, messaging, and quality-of-service projects. These components work with both Java and .Net. This could prove to be very interesting indeed for corporate developer types, and there's something for everyone to love, hate, or at least make use of.

So what do you think? Will you continue to use Java if and when it goes open source? If not, what's the alternative? What benefits and downsides to open-source Java do you see? Please comment below.The real winner with any Java open-source scenario will be Sun, which has been scrambling to lower the prices of its products and services to compete with the likes of Linux and the Wintel crowd.

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