Finally, Sun preps open source Java release?

Believe it when you see it

Some twelve months have passed since Sun Microsystems promised to open source the venerable Java programming language, but the industry is yet to see the code, which should now be available within a few weeks.

With the title of chief open source officer, up from chief technology evangelist, Sun's Simon Phipps is certainly privy to the company's open source software strategy and believes an open source Java is coming "in the next couple of weeks".

However, both Java and open source advocates have a right to be sceptical about release dates from Sun, since during a June 2006 interview with IDG News Service Phipps said the company was "months" away from releasing the code.

In Sydney for a number of speaking engagements, Phipps said Sun is "days or weeks away" from a fully open source Java, but "I can't tell you which it is".

"We really will open source Java, yes it is for real," Phipps said. "Java is already a community of communities and it is going fully GPL by the end of June."

Phipps said GNU project founder Richard Stallman himself said the "Java trap" won't exist any more and Sun, with this contribution, has done more for free software than any other company.

Phipps offered a few reasons why it is taking so long to release the code we will use to public tree.

"The virtual machine is under the GPL version 2 already, but the class libraries [comprise] six million lines of code developed over the past 17 years," he said, adding the code base will be moved from its existing revision control systems to open source equivalents.

"It's nearly done, so probably quite soon rather than at the end of June you will find all of the Java platform open source."

The enthusiastic Phipps further pledged "everything that Sun makes" will be open source within the five-year period from two years ago when he started in this role, "so I have three years to go".

"Australia is a great place to start an open source company," he said. "The market's there, the code is open, so where the bloody hell are you?"

Sure Phipps is passionate about open source, but one obvious hurdle remains - how will Sun monetize all the software it gives away for free?

"There is a huge amount around support, and not just telephone support but updates and new features," he said. "It's monetizing to the point of value. To profit from open source is about whatever the customer finds valuable they will pay for."

"Open source software is not free, it's just the time to pay for it has moved. It's about paying when you need to. Deploy developers love open source because they can solve problems at customer speed, not vendor speed."

For end users Phipps said it's not about saving money, it's about freedom because they can choose what they pay for and when they pay for it.

"End users love open source because it gives users control," he said.

One example of Sun profiting from open source is with its OpenSolaris initiative, which Phipps said has resulted in more revenue since it was released as an open source project than during the more than 20-year history of the operating system.

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Rodney Gedda

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