Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz has angered some in the free software community by appearing to misrepresent what open source is.
In Schwartz's opening keynote at the JavaOne conference on Monday he spoke about how free price is the most important feature of free and open source software (FOSS).
"I want to talk about FOSS — free and open source software. Now just to relay my bias, if you had to ask me what's the most important initial in free and open source software, to me, if you want to reach the broadest marketplace in the world there's one price that works for everyone, and that's free… and so the free part is what we've been focused on," said Schwartz.
But, the definition of free in FOSS is widely accepted to refer to the freedom of software, rather than its cost. Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that Schwartz has missed the point on what both the free software and open source movements are about.
"The free software movement stands for 'free' as in freedom. The open source campaign doesn't present freedom as an ethical issue, but it still formulates its criteria in terms of what users are permitted to do," said Stallman. "Schwartz has therefore missed the point of both — perhaps deliberately. Sun supports neither free software nor open source, so he is trying to oppose both at once by misrepresenting them."
Stallman later said that this is true in the context of Java, but is not true of everything Sun does.
Wookey, a Debian developer, shared Stallman's view and accused Schwartz of deliberately twisting the definition to justify not releasing Java as open source.
"Schwartz has a point when he says that the fact that free software is usually pretty-much cost-free helps drive its popularity, but to imply that that is the important bit is to fundamentally distort what free software is about," said Wookey.
Wookey went on to explain that "the 'free' in free software is about freedoms, and that remains the important bit. The four freedoms free software provides are; the freedom to run the software as you wish, the freedom to study the source code and modify it to do what you wish, the freedom to make and redistribute copies, and the freedom to publish modified versions."
"It is the existence of these freedoms — especially the last two — which makes the software so cheap it is usually not worthwhile charging for it. Schwartz has things back to front. This is no doubt because he wants to claim that Sun's Java is 'free software', which of course it isn't because Sun doesn't grant those last two freedoms," he said.
Irakli Nadareishvili, the chief software architect at charitable organisation Development Gateway Foundation, attended JavaOne and told ZDNet UK he was disappointed by Schwartz's comments. "Schwartz should have known better," he said.