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11/13/2006
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Java Look-Alike Project Pushed Sun To Make Java Open Source

The Apache Software Foundation still plans to develop an open source Java implementation of its own.

Sun Microsystems' move on Monday to make Java open source code under the General Public License will not deter an Apache Software Foundation project that promised an open source Java implementation on its own.

The Harmony project, started May 18, 2005, moved out of its incubation phase and into full-fledged project status at the end of October. Moving out of incubation is a sign within the Apache Software Foundation that an open source project is organized and has a critical mass of contributors. It's expecting to produce its 1.0 implementation of Java Standard Edition in mid-2007.

"If Apache Harmony didn't exist, I don't think Sun would have been motivated to make Java open source," says Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, an open source programmer's workbench project that has attracted hundreds of Java tools. Milinkovich said the Harmony project has shown strong progress over the 18 months.

"My original interest was to push Sun to do what it has done today. The battle is won and I'm happy," wrote Stefano Mazzocchi in an e-mail. He is an Apache Foundation open source developer who helped shepherd Harmony through its infancy.

Geir Magnusson, chairman of the project, said Harmony now has 20 open source committers who both produce code and review other contributors' code. There were 2,000 posts to the comment list on Harmony in September and 3,026 in October, he said.

The regular mailing list to testers and contributors to Harmony numbers 627. Such statistics are used as a measure of the interest in and activity around an open source project, he noted. Without testors and submitters of patches—adjustments and corrections for how the open source codes runs with other code or in particular software environments—the project will fail to produce a robust end result.

The Harmony project was started when Java was still clearly Sun's proprietary code. "Java should be a first-class citizen on Linux, and it couldn't be as closed source," said Magnusson. In addition to Sun, proprietary version of the Java Development Kit and Java Virtual Machine also come from IBM and BEA Systems, who base their Java product lines on them.

Apache programmers, who were early adopters of Java, became concerned that Java would never be able to stay in step with Linux without an open source community focused on a constantly updated implementation of Java Standard Edition, Magnusson says.

Sun officials cited much the same reason for finally making Java open source. Said Rich Green, Sun's executive VP of software: "Sun will be working closely with with distributors of the GNU/Linux operating system, who will soon be able to include the Java Development Kit as part of [their distributions]."

In addition to Linux distributors, such as Red Hat and Novell's Suse, Sun aimed its Java open source code at the needs of telecommunications device makers, who run Linux with Mobile and Embedded Java on their smart phones and other devices.

Milinkovich predicted that Sun's move to offer Java under the GPL will result in "additional energy being poured into Harmony to ensure that it competes on a technical level with Sun's Java." To read his blog on Sun announcement, go to http://milinkovich.blogspot.com/2006/11/congratulations-simon.html. For it to be a recognized implementation of Java, it will have to pass Sun's formidable suite of thousands of tests that proves the new implementation is compatible with Java applications written for its predecessors.

The Apache Foundation is the caretaker of the Apache Web server, which dominates active Web sites, as well as the Java servlet engine, Tomcat, frequently used with Java applications. It hosts a Java database project as well, called Apache DB.

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