Here in San Francisco, as I returned to my hotel from dinner with Redmonk's James Governor last evening, I bumped into Sun's chief open source officer Simon Phiipps who himself was just fresh off a flight from DebConf 6 (Debian Conference) in Oaxtepec, Mexico where, because of that event's coincidental timing with JavaOne, he was unfortunately unable to release the big news that Sun has legally cleared the way for GNU/Linux distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, and Gentoo to bundle Sun's Java Runtime Environment (including the Java Virtual Machine) as a part of their packaging. But as of 12:01 ET, the news was made public and Phipps was free to talk about the announcement and the new legal document -- the Java Distribution License (click here for PDF) -- that made such bundling possible. I grabbed my podcasting gear from my hotel room to get Phipps on tape regarding his announcement. The interview is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded, or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).
I asked Phipps what was it about the situation prior to the release of the Java Distribution License that made things so difficult for distributors of GNU/Linux. Phipps identified two major problems. First, the legal hurdles. Second, the technical difficulties. Phipps also took a question about Red Hat not being part of the announcement:
The nightmare that was installing the Java platform on GNU/Linux is over. As of right now, there is a Debian package Java on GNU/Linux. You can apt-get install sun-java-jdk and it actually works. Same on Ubuntu. Same on Gentoo Linux. I gather that Novell and Suse are endorsing this as well. Finally, the relicensing has happened so that Java is present on the Linux that is being used by most people in the two-thirds world..... [Red Hat] already have Java in their distribution up to a point. We did ask them if they wanted to be involved here and they decided that they would pass this opportunity. I think probably because they are busy tied-up committing themselves to Java anyway. They just bought this app server company apparently so there's really no question of Red Hat's commitment to Java because the profitability of JBoss depends on it.
When the Java platform was released in the mid-90s, the license that it was under was framed to make sure that some predatory parties couldn't embrace and extend the Java platform. The way the license was framed meant that anyone who tried to distribute the [Java Runtime Environment] had to make sure they were distributing with an application that was of a greater worth than the JRE itself. They had to make sure that their use of the JRE was compatible. And they also had to make sure they took liability for people who downloaded the JRE from them. And most importantly, they to make sure they didn't ship Java [Standard Edition] with any other system that was intended to replace Java SE. Also the situation that existed was that the package that Sun distributed with Java SE for Linux inside it was -- I don't know how to charitably put this -- very very nasty indeed. It was a binary that just dumped all the files for the Java into a directory and left you to your own cleverness to distribute them around your system. But just because the Java Runtime Environment can be distributed with GNU/Linux does not equate to open sourcing Java -- something open source advocates have long demanded of Sun. I asked Phipps about when that might happen and he said to keep waiting as though that day might actually come. How long? He didn't say. Also, Phipps said that the move was preceeded by a lot of conversation with the GNU/Linux community. However, those discussions excluded the Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman. That part of the conversation however did lead to an exchange about version 3 of the GPL and whether or not Sun might release open source offerings such as OpenSolaris under that open source license as opposed to the CDDL (different from the GPL).
We covered a lot of other territory including whether or not he thought there would be big changes at the company now that Jonathan Schwartz is CEO (having been promoted from COO). At several points during the conversation, Redmonk's Governor interjected some of his thoughts about the announcement. Sun is a Redmonk client, but Governor was pretty candid about how this changes the landscape for GNU/Linux.