Sun Opens Java to Developers

Despite a somewhat clumsy history with the free and open source software community, Sun Microsystems Monday opened Java to software developers under the general public license (GPL).

The long-rumored move was a departure from the company’s expected plan — to release Java under the same license that governs its OpenSolaris operating system, the common development and distribution License (CDDL).

Instead, Sun chose the GPL Version 2 license. In addition, the company appears to favor the upcoming GPL Version 3 (GPLv3) of the open source license, which it claims will broaden Java’s deployment on more than 4 billion devices, including cell phones, set-top boxes, PCs and servers.

“The GPL is the same license used to manage the evolution of GNU/Linux,” wrote Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz in his blog. “In choosing the GPL, we’ve opened the door to commingling the communities and the code itself.”

Jump for Java

Sun’s choice of going with the GPL breathes new life into Java, and is good for open source and proprietary software developers as well as Sun, Black Duck CEO Doug Levin told LinuxInsider.

In addition, Sun’s announcement was tied to Oracle’s recent offer of support for Linux and a Microsoft-Novell Linux agreement, all of which have stirred the IT industry over the whole issue of open source software, he added.

As a result of choosing GPL, “Sun’s connection to the community will be more as an open source vendor rather than a proprietary vendor that’s trying to co-opt open source,” Levin said.

The recent announcements points to large software vendors’ “new approach” to open source standards. “The success of open source and Linux has been reflected in these announcements. We’re past the tipping point on open source,” he remarked.

GPL Momentum

Although Sun’s announcement is applauded by developers, Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner emphasized that Sun’s Java tools and the overall Java framework are not being opened.

“It’s certainly a good [thing], but the control, management and governance is still in the hands of the Java community process,” Gardner told LinuxInsider, adding that no overarching open source organization, such asan Eclipse or a SourceForge, exists for the Java code.

However, the growing popularity of the GPL is reflected in Sun’s announcement, according to Gardner.

Brighter Sun on Open Source

There are still some questions regarding the software indemnification that accompanies GPL Java compared to the CDDL-licensed OpenSolaris, which comes with liability coverage from Sun, Gardner pointed out.

By selecting the GPL for Java, Sun will actively work within the parameters of the open source license — something the company should have done long ago, he noted.

Sun’s Java strategy may ultimately convince the company to switch to the GPL for OpenSolaris, said Levin.

Also, the announcement strengthens the open source community standing of Sun, which indicates that the firm has approved of the coming GPLv3, according to Schwartz’s blog.

“It puts Sun in a position to weigh in with greater gravitas than they could prior to Java being GPL,” Levin said.

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