Google open source chief: IBM/Sun deal could benefit Java

Staffer speculates IBM ownership of Sun could have prevented the current battle between Sun and Apache Software Foundation

Google's chief of open source believes an IBM acquisition of Sun could benefit the Java community, which has occasionally protested Sun's leadership role over the technology.

Chris Dibona, Google's open source program manager, speculated that IBM ownership of Sun could have prevented the current battle between Sun and Apache Software Foundation, which accuses Sun of refusing to grant it an acceptable license for its open source Java SE implementation called Harmony.

"I think [an IBM acquisition of Sun] would actually have a positive impact on Java," Dibona said during a roundtable discussion about open source issues with media members in Boston Thursday. "Sun has been kind of weird about licensing the TCK [Technology Compatibility Kit] for non-Sun Java. I think IBM would not be as restrictive about the use of the TCK. ... IBM has been a huge user of Java and a huge supporter of the Java projects."

The TCK Dibona referred to is a set of tests, tools and documentation that determines whether a project complies with a Java technology specification.

Java is an important technology for Google, which holds a seat on the executive committee of the Java Community Process, which helps dictate the future of Java by developing new technology specifications and reference implementation.

The Java programming language was invented by Sun, which released its Java software platform in 1995. Over the years, Sun has made several moves to involve the broader community of developers and rival vendors who have a vested interest in the technology.

In 1998, Sun created the Java Community Process and in 2006 and 2007 Sun released the programming language itself as open source software. But some members of the Java community want Sun to give up its control over the Java technology and the Java Community Process completely, leaving the company with no special rights over the licensing and development of the software.

IBM is reportedly in talks to purchase Sun Microsystems, but no deal has been officially announced.

While Dibona said he believes there would be fewer conflicts if IBM were the owner of Java, he did not offer an opinion as to whether IBM would relinquish control over Java and the JCP. Any time companies merge, major changes can take years, he noted.

"I think the JCP would logically change," Dibona said. "I don't think they would change the licensing of Java significantly."

Dibona counts himself a fan of several Sun technologies. ZFS file system and virtualization technologies within the OpenSolaris Unix operating system could offer significant contributions to Linux, Dibona says. OpenSolaris is open source but Dibona says the current license would have to be changed in order to use parts of the operating system to Linux.

"I would love to see parts of OpenSolaris make it into Linux," he says. Dibona, who has been with Google four and a half years, is responsible for Google's Summer of Code and the release of open source software and APIs on Google Code.

Google has released about 20 million lines of code in his time with the company, Dibona says. Because of this, Google users who find bugs can easily send in patches.

Google has discussed open sourcing the code in Lively, and Dibona says he would like to see Picasa go open source. It would not be feasible to open source some Google projects, however. For example, Google Maps relies upon information Google purchases from other companies, and Google can't give maps away to people outside the context in which they have been licensed. Releasing the core search algorithms would also not be smart, Dibona says, because that would give to much information to hackers and spammers.

Google uses all sorts of open source technologies within the company. For example, Google uses its own version of Ubuntu which it calls "Goobuntu," as well some open source server virtualization software on test and development machines.

The Internet itself is based largely on open source technologies such as Linux and Apache Web servers, Dibona notes.

"Google exists on this open Internet," Dibona says. "We can crawl it. We sell ads against that capability. That's pretty awesome that we can do that. And its pretty awesome that if we start screwing up people can switch over. If Yahoo or Microsoft start doing a better job there is nothing preventing people from using them. We enjoy our market dominance because of competence and not because of lock in."

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