Sun's McNealy: Java won't be open source

Despite urging from competitors and open source advocates, Sun Microsystems Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., will not open the source to its Java programming language anytime soon, said Sun CEO Scott McNealy during a news conference at the 2004 FOSE conference.

'We're trying to understand what problem does it solve that is not already solved,' McNealy said.

Last month Eric Raymond, noted open source programmer and president of the Open Source Initiative advocacy group, posted an open letter to McNealy calling for Sun to make Java open source.

'Sun's insistence on continuing tight control of the Java code has damaged Sun's long-term interests by throttling acceptance of the language in the open-source community, ceding the field (and probably the future) to scripting-language competitors like Python and Perl,' Raymond wrote.

Java is an object-oriented language developed by Sun. Written originally for embedded devices, Java was designed to allow a single program to be written once and be able to run on multiple platforms without modification, through the use of the software-based Java Virtual Machine.

Although Sun maintains Java is an open implementation, allowing other software manufacturers to license the code and build competing Java-based products, the company maintains control over what changes can be made to the language.

One advantage of keeping Java under its own control is that competing factions break the language into incompatible versions, McNealy said. He noted that Linux already suffers from this problem. The leading Linux vendor, Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., has already introduced features in its own version of Linux that make it incompatible with other versions. Since Linux is open source, Red Hat was free to build its own version of the operating system.

In contrast, when Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., tried to introduce features into its own version of Java that wouldn't work in non-Windows systems, Sun successfully blocked the changes through legal means, McNealy said.

He said that although he respected Raymond, he felt the advocate was off base in his letter and noted Sun's many years in managing technology development among multiple parties.

'We've been around the block many times on open interfaces, open systems implementation, compatibility. Nobody has more experience on community development,' he said.

McNealy was likewise dismissive of Sun competitor IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., who sent a similar, much-discussed open letter to Sun last month.

'Go open source with DB2 and then you can tell me what to do with my assets,' was McNealy's response to IBM.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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