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11/11/2009
07:26 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: SAP Tells Oracle To Free Java But Keeps Own Software Closed

SAP's CTO argues that Java is so vital to global IT that it must be in public domain. So does the same hold true for SAP systems that manage 65% of global GDP?

SAP CTO Vishal Sikka has called on Oracle to turn the Java language and platform over to public stewardship. Sikka ended his request by stretching historical perspective to the breaking point with this plea to the leaders of Oracle and Sun: "Gentlemen, tear down this wall! Let Java be free!"

Complicating the Java status is the recent kerfuffle over SAP CEO Leo Apotheker's Purloined Letter: two months ago, Apotheker wrote a letter to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison asking for a meeting to discuss the Java situation. SAP says that while it never received any reply or acknowledgement of that letter, the Wall Street Journal managed to obtain a copy and raised a number of allegations about the letter's real intent. But more on that in a moment; for now, back to SAP CTO Sikka's plea for a liberated Java.

Let's put aside Sikka's ham-fisted attempt to equate this software-stewardship demand to the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall—his blog post was exquisitely timed at 10:01 p.m. on Nov. 9. In conjuction with such a truly extraordinary development, such giddy and out-of-proportion license can be overlooked.

What can't be overlooked, though, is the juxtaposition of SAP and Sikka's request with its own track record of open-source advocacy and leadership. Setting up his argument, Sikka makes a compelling case for Java's significant status in not only the global IT market but also in the global economy itself:

"There are few inventions that exemplify our aspirations and have captured our imagination the same way as the Java programming language, and we commend Sun Microsystems as its owner and steward for the ecosystem it has been able to build.

"For 15 years, Java has been a programming language that brought about significant innovation. Java is everywhere, from large scale enterprise applications to mobile devices and payment cards. Java is also the language of the community, enabling a whole generation of developers to collaborate and co-innovate within open source communities like Apache and Eclipse.

". . . .Java is the lifeblood of the IT industry, and IT is a fundamental underpinning of the way business is conducted in the 21st century. The technical interfaces that are jointly developed by the community should be immune from bias, and the community should be able to work even closer together in the spirit of cooperation to continue the Java success story."

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Having made his case that the global economy is heavily dependent on Java—"the lifeblood of the IT industry"—Sikka then argues that Java's very success and indispensability are proof that it can't be under the control or even influence of the company that created and nurtured it (Sun) or more particularly the company that is eager to spend $7.4 billion to acquire Sun and all of its great technology, including Java:

"To ensure the continued role of Java in driving economic growth, we believe it is essential to transition the stewardship of the language and platform into an authentically open body that is not dominated by an individual corporation. Java should be free of any encumbrances to permit fair competition between compatible implementations for the benefit of customers. By preserving the integrity of Java, the IT industry can ensure a vibrant developer community and continued innovation for enterprise software customers. This ensures the continued global economic success brought about through open innovation."

Pretty compelling, isn't it? It all sounds so reasonable, so balanced, so…obvious. But then, just as I was about to tattoo "Free Java!" across my forehead, I recalled something Sikka had written in the first paragraph of his post:

"In a flat world whose economy is dependent on global relationships, IT has an essential enabling role to power the global business network. SAP systems are at the core of large parts of global IT, and are powering more than 65% of the transactions that make up the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). SAP bears a great responsibility to provide a stable core".

Pushing my tattoo needles aside, I thought about that:

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