The Apache Foundation has announced that it's going to do what Sun has sworn never to: produce an open source version of Java. Project Harmony aims to create an independent distribution of Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE), the desktop version of the runtime environment. Sun has claimed that it wouldn't be appropriate for it to release the source code of its official version, given that it's the compatibility reference for the rest of the world.
Just because Sun thinks its own interests are best served by keeping the Java runtime closed, doesn't mean that this new version will hurt Sun in any way. The least Sun can do is not to try to prevent Harmony succeeding. The most it can do is actively help the project to achieve its aims, even if the networking software company doesn't contribute code to the project.
To be fair to Sun, it has already said it welcomes Project Harmony. After all, it has nothing really to lose from the creation of an independent version of Java, since it doesn't make any money from the distribution of the J2SE runtime. Sun still retains control of the Java language and VM specification and, providing Harmony is fully compatible with its own version, can sell its Java tools and applications to Harmony users.
That compatibility is the crux of the matter. While the Harmony team will do everything they can to ensure their version of J2SE is completely compatible with the official version, it would be even better if Sun gave them a helping hand. The greater the level of compatibility, the greater the level of adoption.
There are those who specifically advocate not using Java because no usable open source implementation exists. If Harmony succeeds, their argument loses its strength, and we'll have a much wider choice of software in general. This isn't about closed source versus open source, proprietary versus free or even corporate giants versus the little guy. It's about choice over what software you use to run your organisation. Choice will only make Java stronger, and that benefits everyone.