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1/27/2005
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Is 'Open Java' An Open Topic?

This week, Sun delivered the first product of its rekindled open-source romance: the Solaris DTrace utility. And now, rumor has it, Open Solaris could get a surprise sibling, as Sun executives revisit the idea of open-sourcing the company's Java Enterprise System.

This week, Sun delivered the first product of its rekindled open-source romance: the Solaris DTrace utility. And now, rumor has it, Open Solaris could get a surprise sibling, as Sun executives revisit the idea of open-sourcing the company's Java Enterprise System.

We've been through this all before. Last year, Free Java became a cause celebre in the open-source community; various free software notables came out in support of the idea, as did IBM (with suspicious glee). All for nothing: When JavaOne rolled around in July, Sun's management took the opportunity to squash the notion.

So, why the rumored about-face? Looking back, Sun had a lot on its plate at the time, including major J2SE and Solaris releases. Sun executives were also in the midst of a major row over when, how, and to what extent the company should deliver on its promises to open-source Solaris 10. Even if open-source Java had supporters within Sun's upper management at the time, IBM's clumsy pot-stirring tactics made the idea politically unpopular.

Most of these obstacles are gone: Solaris 10 is out the door, and Open Solaris looks to be a done deal (something I still doubted just a few weeks ago). The most important change, however, is Sun's growing enthusiasm for its new open-source license. The CDDL, a derivative of the same Mozilla Public License governing Firefox, appears to leave the company with a reassuring measure of control over Open Solaris while still passing muster as a "real" open-source license. It's a sure thing that if JES does go open-source, it will be under the CDDL.

I'm not convinced an open-source JES is something we'll see this year, if we see it at all. Sun has every reason to wait and see how Open Solaris performs before taking Java down the same path. We'll also see another high-level catfight or two within Sun's top ranks over the issue, no matter how Open Solaris fares. And finally, another blast of hot air from IBM or Red Hat at the wrong time would complicate what is already sure to be a controversial decision.

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