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Flashback to '04: Now Come the Counter-Arguments Against Open-Sourcing Java

Not Everyone Believes that Open-Sourcing Java is the Answer

ESR's Open Letter to Scott McNealy did not resonate positively in some quarters. Here for example is John D. Mitchell - a developer, author, educator, and the founder of Non.net - writing at the java.net Web site:

I'm personally sick and tired of Open-Source fanatics saying that everything should be open-sourced. It's Sun's property and they can do whatever they want to do with it (whether we like it or not). On the other side, I'm equally sick and tired of Sun saying that they do NOT have any extra level of control over the rest of the JCP powers - that's patently false - check out my earlier blog on that particular subject, Open, Independent JCP?

And here - from Java's guardian, Sun Microsystems, itself - is Chief Technology Evangelist, Simon Phipps:

"I'd say this is 100 per cent rant, simplistic accusations don't hold water... If this is the way that Open Source treats its friends, I'd hate to see how it treats its enemies."

Phipps, who is UK-based, was quoted in the British magazine PC Pro, and initially took what has always been the Sun party line:

"Sun has no more control over Java than anyone else in the Java Community Process."

But after that he wasn't backward about coming forward, pointing out to PC Pro that, since version 2.5 of the Java Development Process (ratified some 18 months ago) it's been possible for anyone to create an implementation of Java that complies with the Open Source requirements - including "Tiger" a.k.a. Java 1.5 of which an alpha release has been available all this month.

Here's Phipps's closing comment to the magazine:

"The question [Eric S. Raymond] should really be asking is why has no-one else offered to create an Open Source version of Java. Maybe because it's on the 'too hard' list. Sun would support an Open Source version of Java, but it need[s] a lot of money and time to do so. You can't just flick a switch. Right now Sun has higher priorities in the form of Java 1.5." 

Another combative take comes from Sun's Charles Ditzel, who blogs:

"The latest letter from Eric S. Raymond is a call for Sun to 'open source' Java. The excuse both seem to indicate is that Java is marginalized and that it is not accepted by the open source community. This is modern software mythology. There is surprisingly very little real substance to both attempts to paint Java as a language unaccepted within the open source community."

"Let's do some sanity checks," continues Ditzel. "ESR's letter starts out with a rather huge mistake that has already been widely discussed."

"[ESR] states 'Open source is hardly a zero-revenue model; ask Red Hat, which had a share price over triple Sun's when I checked.' This has been discussed. Sun's revenue is considerably greater than Red Hat's. Comparing stock prices price and assuming that this is a revenue comparison is a basic mistake made by many novice investors. Comparing Sun stock to Red Hat's has very little meaning other than suggesting that one stock is less expensive. One should not make the mistake of comparing the two stocks and gleaning any comparative revenue knowledge. It is an embarrassing mistake as he proceeds to tell someone that 'you don't know what you are talking about' and then bases his next assertion on a faulty comparison of share prices. It is one thing to make a big mistake - another to tell someone else they don't understand something and then base your house of cards on your broken understanding."

Ditzel then moves on to another "reality check" involving ESR's claim that "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."

This, one of the central points of the entire ESR letter, is easily refuted according to Ditzel.

He adduces a site, "Programming Language Usage Graph" by Francois Labelle, showing the rate of growth of open source projects by computer language at sourceforge.

Let's allow Ditzel to speak for himself:

"Sourceforge.net is one of the largest repositories of open source code. Both Eric Raymond and Michael Teimann share one thing in common - the supposition that open source and Java in its current state are somehow not complimentary or pervasive. They are both out of touch with the community. Yet, Java is growing at a fairly fast rate and more interesting Java open source projects are also growing quickly. Comparing growth rates is not enough. Let look at sourceforge.net's projects :

C++
12,765 projects
C
12,762 projects
Java
11,203 projects
PHP
  8,437 projects
Perl
  5,317 projects
Python
  2,999 projects
Javascript
  1,612 projects
C#
  1,259 projects
TCL
     778 projects
Ruby
     283 projects
Ada
       77 projects
Eiffel
       67 projects

One should also make the point that if one looks at the Linux distribution -  C/C++ dominate.  However the Linux distribution is not the open source community.  Open source software is written for all sorts of operating systems including Windows, BSD, Solaris and MacOS.  In the largest open source repository on the net, Java is third only to two operating systems that are much, much older and are declining in growth.  ESR never mentioned this.  Java open source software has a large base of projects and is extremely healthy and growing."

Ditzel then offers eight further "reality checks" aimed at debunking ESR's open letter - so in the interests of open debate it is well worth going and reading his blog in full and getting a picture of the counter-arguments to the Raymond call to "Let Java Go."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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