Sun Microsystems moves closer to taking Java open source

SAN FRANCISCO – For Sun Microsystems Inc., it’s no longer a question of if but a question of how it will open Java source code to the developer community.

That admission came from Rich Green, executive vice-president of Sun software for Sun Microsystems, during the opening keynote at this year’s Java One conference here.

Green, a former Sun employee, recently returned to Sun after new president and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who took over Scott McNealy’s helm a couple of weeks ago, asked him to come back.

“There are two battling forces,” said Green, who was brought up on stage by Schwartz. “The desire to open up versus compatibility. At this point it’s not a question of whether but a question of how.”

McNealy stepped down last month after nearly a quarter centry with the company he co-founded. While McNealy made a brief appearance at a Symantec conference here last week hitting golf balls into the crowd there, he did not join Schwartz on stage.

Building on the open source momentum, Sun on Monday announced that it will open source SOA-based Java development tools, middleware and platform technologies to the Java developer community. These include Sun Java Studio Creator, System Portal Server, the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) Engine from the Java Composite Application Platform Suite (Java CAPS) and the NetBeans Enterprise Pack as well as Web Services Interoperability Technology (WSIT).

As for how Sun plans to make money on Java, Schwartz compared it to other industries. “Asking Sun how it monetizes Java is like asking a railroad company how they monetize rails,” said Schwartz in a question and answer period that followed the keynote. “There is licencing revenue that comes from licensing products in the marketplace.”

In its last quarter, Sun reported a US $217 million net loss. Schwartz said there are two ways to exit a loss position.

“One is cut. I’ve never met a company that’s cut itself to greatness,” he said. The other way is to grow.”

Schwartz added Sun has improved its gross margins and revenue ($3.177 billion for Q3 2006) and has cut back expenses by $1 billion.

“I’m not about, ‘Let’s go take out a hatchet and find a spare limb here and there.’”

While Schwartz and his team figure out the delivery model for open sourced Java, other experts like Dave Senf, manager of Canadian application development and infrastructure at IDC Canada, said Sun has a delicate balancing act to perform when balancing compatibility with the advantages of open source such as more frequent updates and patches.

“It’s a spectrum from those who want it to be very compatible versus those who want to be able to quickly update the specs,” said Senf, adding that Sun has to be careful of avoiding some of Linux’s pitfalls in the compatibility department.

“If you take a look at Linux kernel development, the kernel has remained the same but they haven’t maintained compatibility across the different distros,” he said. “If you look at Suse Linux versus Red Hat, they’re different. If I run code on one, it may not necessarily run on the other.”

In order to combat this, Senf said Sun needs to come up with a way that enables developers to have access to patches, updates and bug fixes while maintaining compatibility across software platforms.

Green reiterated that compatibility is key to Sun’s Java open source strategy.

“Fragmentation is not at all the case,” he said. “Over time the effect of standardization is driven by the installed base and developers. The same can be true for Java. The lessons are clear in terms of the stability of Open Solaris.”

There are currently nearly five million Open Solaris licenses, according to Sun.

Also on the open source front, Sun announced that Java Standard Edition (SE) 5 is now available for redistribution through GNU/Linux and OpenSolaris operating system distributors under the Distro Licence for Java (DL).

Java One wraps up on Friday.

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