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Sun Releases Java To Open Source Development

The cross-platform technology Sun created more than 10 years ago will be available under the GNU General Public License, which is the same contract that governs use and development of the Linux operating system.

Sun Microsystems on Monday released Java to open source development, a move that the server and software maker hopes will drive further adoption of the technology used in computers, mobile phones, and handheld devices.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company said the cross-platform technology it created more than 10 years ago will be available under the GNU General Public License, which is the same contract that governs use and development of the Linux operating system. Sun is offering for free all three versions of Java under the GPL -- the standard edition used in building desktop applications, the micro edition for handheld devices, and the enterprise edition for building server-side applications.

The announcement, however, brought some disappointment to IBM, among the biggest users of the technology. Rod Smith, VP of emerging technologies for the IBM Software Group, said Sun should have released the Java source code with the Apache Foundation, an open source project that has a less restrictive license than the GPL.

The latest move follows a trend within Sun to use the open source model to help drive use of its products as part of its recovery strategy. The high flyer in the dot-com era lost billions of dollars following the bubble burst in 2000. Among the products Sun has also released to open source development is a version of its Solaris operating system.

Stephen O'Grady, analyst for RedMonk, said Sun is looking to extend the use of Java specifically to Linux, an operating system that has gained widespread acceptance in the enterprise market. Java is the underpinning for much of Sun's commercial software,

"By open-sourcing Java, they can reach the widest possible audience," O'Grady said.

Java today, according to Sun, is used in more than 3.8 billion devices, from mobile phones and smart cards to enterprise applications and supercomputers. The technology was first introduced to compete with Microsoft by enabling non-Windows applications to run on the OS. Java did this through a runtime engine that ran on top of Windows, called a Java Virtual Machine.

Microsoft fought hard against Sun, which later sued the software giant for its competitive tactics. Microsoft paid $2 billion to settle the suit in 2004.

While a major user of Java, IBM has often disagreed with Sun's handling of the technology. In the latest flap, IBM's Smith said the company was "very supportive of the move," but believed that Sun should have contributed Java -- specifically, the standard and micro editions -- to Apache, which has been working with Sun to create an open source version of Java, called the Harmony project.

"In light of the Apache projects, we have discussed with Sun our strong belief that Sun should contribute their Java technologies to Apache rather than starting another open source Java project, or at least make their contributions available under an 'Apache friendly' license to ensure the open source Java community isn't fragmented and disenfranchised," Smith said in a statement.

Sun was not immediately available for comment, but O'Grady said IBM would rather see Java under Apache, because the organization's license does not require sharing of code. Under the GPL, code is available at no charge, but any modifications or additions have to be shared with other licensees.

"A lot of commercial providers will have the same reaction as IBM," O'Grady said.

The GPL adds an alternative form of licensing for the Java Platform Enterprise Edition. The technology stack has been available for more than a year under the Common Development and Distribution License through Project GlassFish.

Sun expects to release a new Java development kit under the GPL for the Java standard edition in the first quarter of next year. The kit includes Sun's HotSpot virtual machine and its Java programming language compiler.

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