Sun Microsystems spent last week fending off new calls that it contribute Java as open-source code. Previous requests came from open-source programmers critical of Sun's grip on the language; now they're coming from two of Sun's largest Java business partners.
"Innovation is slowing down. It's important that we keep up the pace," said Rod Smith, VP of emerging technology at IBM, at last week's JavaOne developers' conference. Java must adapt to the latest Internet technologies before Microsoft launches its next version of Windows, expected in 2006, Smith said. BEA Systems Inc. chief technology officer Scott Dietzen also urged an open-source move.
But business users don't necessarily favor turning Java into open-source code. "Sun has done a really good job of being a steward of Java," says Chris Wells, senior consultant at BT Syntegra USA, a unit of the British telecom company BT plc. He cited Sun's Java Community Process, a multivendor process for building Java, as a sign of Java's openness.
Sun CEO Scott McNealy turned the tables by urging IBM to make its DB2 database and other software open source, and accusing IBM of suffering from"Java envy." Said McNealy: "Our stewardship is unwavering."
For those who think Sun isn't financially strong enough to nurture Java--it lost $760 million last quarter--McNealy said Sun's server sales are rejuvenating and predicted better results in its quarter that ended in June.
The debate would be just another developer dispute if Java weren't vital to critical business applications. Java applications built within businesses represent a $110 billion investment, said Sun president Jonathan Schwartz.
BEA and IBM pitch different approaches: BEA's Dietzen proposes making open source the basic Java Standard Edition, while IBM aims for Java 2 Enterprise Edition, a more-complex package plus interfaces to work with outside resources.