Sun To Highlight Open Source At JavaOne

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and executive VP Rich Green are expected to deliver major Java news at the annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco next week.
After more than a decade of slugging it out in the technology arena, Java has emerged as a less-exciting, but still relevant, development platform. But as creator Sun Microsystems prepares to release the programming language to the open source community, the technology could get a shot of adrenalin.

Rich Green, executive VP of software at Sun, is expected Tuesday to kick off the annual JavaOne conference in San Francisco with an update on Sun's decision to release by June all of the source code for Java under the GNU General Public License, the same agreement that governs the use of the Linux operating system. Sun chief executive and president Jonathan Schwartz, a big supporter of licensing more Sun software under the GPL, is expected to join Green on stage.

While many analysts agree that open source Java will lead to more and better development of the software platform, they also say it's a move that should have happened years ago. "Java should have always been an open source product," said Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group. "It was crippled because Sun positioned it as a weapon against Microsoft."

Jonathan Eunice, analyst for Illuminata agreed. "If they had done this five years ago, it would have accelerated Java and blunted the attack of a C# and CLR from Microsoft," he said.

C#, a programming language, and the Common Language Runtime, were technologies Microsoft developed to counter Sun's attempt years ago to position Java as a technology that could weaken the software maker's Windows monopoly on the desktop. Sun lost that battle.

In refusing to turn Java over to the open source community sooner, Sun also wasted energy constantly defending its strategy in retaining control. "That absolutely hurt Java to be somewhat distant from Linux and to have this tension with the [open source] community," Eunice said.

The tension is gone, and Java is going where it should have been years ago. As a result, there's more enthusiasm over the programming language, albeit nowhere close to when it was introduced in 1995, and embraced by the "anything-but-Microsoft" crowd.

The excitement over open source Java has spilled over to Oracle, BEA Systems, and other companies in the Java ecosystem, leading to significant improvements in the enterprise edition of Java that has made the platform more flexible and easier to program to, Eunice said. In addition, open source projects have been launched, such as GlassFish, which is building enterprise-level software for the platform. "The open participation has given some new energy to the evolution of Java," Eunice said. And "we haven't seen the end. We're kind of just getting started."

Indeed, industry watchers don't expect a major influx of open source development until Sun releases all of Java under the GPL. Even then, not everyone believes Java will rise much higher in the industry then it already has. "Is being open source enough? I don't know," Enderle said. "The boat may have already sailed for Java, since it's taken so long to get this far."

Many developers who have been unhappy with Sun's handling of Java in the past have moved on to alternatives and are unlikely to come back, Enderle said.

Barry Klawans, CTO for JasperSoft, a maker of Java-based business intelligence tools, is also not expecting a lot of change. "The main driving force behind changes to the language is going to continue to come from Sun," he said.

Klawans, for example, doesn't see anyone trying to build a new, generic virtual machine, the runtime environment that makes it possible to run a Java application on different operating systems. What he would like to see, however, is performance tuning, particularly in Swing, the technology used in building the presentation layer of applications in Java.

Open source Java may trigger more development for embedded systems, a special-purpose computer system designed to perform a limited set of functions, Klawans said. Examples would range from portable devices, such as digital music players, to factory equipment.

One use for Java Sun continues to push, and will probably take up at JavaOne, is in mobile phones. In that segment, the platform competes with its old enemy Microsoft Windows, as well as other platforms, such as Brew and Symbian. "We're at the beginning of that whole evolution toward carrying computing power with us," Eunice said. "Java is a contender there, but only a contender."

Whichever direction Java goes, most analysts would agree on one thing. Taking the technology open source has at least pulled it from the past and placed it in the present.

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