Open source developers pressure Sun on Java

A poll circulating among various developer groups is asking for a vote on whether Sun should make Java open source.
Written by Deborah Gage, Contributor
A poll circulating among various developer groups is asking for a vote on whether Sun should make Java open source. Kevin Burton, the developer who organized the poll, calls Java "broken." He says that depending on the results of the poll, he may ask the open source community to drop Java in favor of a clean-room implementation such as a Classpath/GNU compiler.

"Java isn't getting ported to non-popular operating systems, isn't getting new features, isn't solid," says Burton, who created the Apache Jetspeed and Alexandria projects and founded www.openprivacy.org. "I'm fine with letting Sun and the Java Community Process work out the language spec and high-level features, but the implementation should be done in an open manner."

This is not Burton's first go-around with Sun - in March he organized a petition asking Sun to open some of its Java tools. However, Sun is increasingly entwined with various open source organizations--including the Apache Foundation - and said last week it is depending on open source developers to help build an open systems competitor to Microsoft.Net. That effort revolves around StarOffice and the Gnome interface, which will both be available under the GNU Public License.

Opinion so far is divided. As of Monday, 28.8 percent of developers voting said there was nothing wrong with Sun's Java licensing, while 26 percent said Java should also be made available under the GPL.

Burton thinks all of Java should be developing the way the Tomcat project is developing under Apache's sponsorship. Sun donated its reference implementation for Java servlets and Java Server Pages to Tomcat after its own Java Web server was dropped by iPlanet (the Sun-Netscape alliance). The goal is to create an open source Java-enabled Web server for the industry. Burton says Sun's Java Community Process controls the Java servlet specification and Tomcat controls the implementation.

A Sun spokeswoman says developers should approach the Java Community Process with ideas on Java development and not Sun.

Until Sun makes a decision on opening Java, getting a Java license can mean a battle. Cleanroom Java vendor Tower Technology announced that after over three years of negotiating it has finally been granted a license to Java 2. Tower is also participating in Sun's Java Community Process and is working with Sun engineers on passing Sun's compatibility tests. Tower specializes in improving server-side Java performance and is aiming its technology at XML servers, personalization portals, data mining, and B2B exchanges.

"This erases customers' concerns, opens more channels of distribution for us, and allows a free exchange of information between us and other Java licensees," says Tower VP Madison Cloutier.

Tower's chief competitor is IBM, which last week licensed the IBM Java developer kit for Linux to Inprise/Borland. An IBM spokesman says IBM believes it is within the rights of its Sun license to redistribute a compatible Java runtime.

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