Sun backs down on Blackdown

In a breach of open-source etiquette, Sun falls in hot water by failing to credit work by the Linux Blackdown Porting Team

It was a press conference like any other press conference. Sun Microsystems announced that, in conjunction with Inprise, it was releasing Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition (J2SE). What Sun didn't mention, though, was that much of the work that lay behind J2SE was done by the Linux Blackdown Porting Team, a group of open-source programmers devoted to Java.

Indeed, Blackdown has been hard at work porting Sun's Java Developer's Toolkit to Linux. The group has ported everything from the Java Virtual Machine, to class libraries, to C++ application program interfaces, to Java on Linux. In short, this was a full-out redeployment of Java to Linux.

In fact, Blackdown's work was so impressive that Sun and Inprise used large parts of it, untouched, for J2SE -- which, despite what some think, is perfectly legal and aboveboard. The Sun Community Source License makes it clear that Sun is in the right in doing exactly this.

On the legal front, Sun was fine and dandy. But when it came to giving credit where credit is due, Sun made a major misstep with open-source developers. The Blackdown programming team was angry over having its contributions overlooked in Sun's original announcements. After all, it was not as if Blackdown was a purely informal group that didn't have Sun's official blessing and backing. In March, Sun had announced that "the Blackdown team will serve as a conduit to bring these [Java media] tools to the entire Linux community."

With this background, it can come as no surprise that some Blackdown developers are sick and tired of Sun. They're not considering giving up on Java, though. Instead, some of their members claim to be thinking about working on IBM's Java variants.

Sun has realized its miscue. Rick Schultz, Sun's J2SE manager has apologized to the Blackdown developers. He hopes Blackdown will continue to work with Sun on porting Java to Linux.

Ken Arnold, a Sun development engineer and a leader in the Jini organization wrote to the Jini developers mailing list that, "The press release was messed up. Pure and simple. Sun knows that Blackdown did a lot of work that was in that release, Sun even had Blackdown in the confidential Q&A about the release, but, through a typical level of big company miscommunication, didn't get it in the press release."

While not in press release form, Sun has acknowledged its mistake, but damage has been done. One anonymous Sun engineer said, "If a business is doing community programming then everyone in the business should know about it. Mistakes like this make you wonder just how serious Sun is about community source anyway."

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