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Sun's Open Source Java Moves Are Bold, Smart, and Limited

Sun's recent decision to open-source some elements of Java is pretty exciting -- but a few years overdue, says InformationWeek columnist Eric A. Hall

All told, Sun's release of their Java SE, ME and EE software is a major industry event, and is likely to contribute significantly to further adoption of the language as a development platform. By many estimates, Java is already the most widely used language, and its certainly smart for Sun to make these moves while they are still on top of the pile. This is particularly true given that Microsoft's .Net development tools are continuing to gain momentum, and Sun had to do something to ensure that Java stays on top.

According to John Andrews, president of the Evans Data Corporation, their research panel of 20,000 developers indicate that Java is the most-used programming language globally, with over 50% of respondents reporting that they spend some time developing in Java. And while Microsoft's .Net languages are currently behind Java, Andrews reports that .Net is growing faster, and it may overtake Java usage in 2007.

Clearly, Sun needed do this if they wanted to retain their leadership advantage, and they had to do it now. But I have to wonder how much further ahead Java would be if these same efforts had been undertaken several years back. Think back to when Microsoft licensed Java, then released an incompatible JVM prior to pushing out their own .Net interpreted languages--if Sun had released an open source version of their own JVM back then, they wouldn't have had to rely on Microsoft for distribution as much, and would have avoided the inevitable collision of interests, weakening Microsoft's case for .Net.

Meanwhile, the UNIX and Web development worlds have proceeded apace with languages like Perl and PHP, even to the point of using them where Java would have been a better choice, and this has largely happened because of problems that have arisen from the lack of a common and consistent interpreter that was freely available. By all these measures, the recent moves by Sun are several years late in coming.

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