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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 :

12,765 projects
12,762 projects
11,203 projects
  8,437 projects
  5,317 projects
  2,999 projects
  1,612 projects
  1,259 projects
     778 projects
     283 projects
       77 projects
       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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Most Recent Comments
John Clingan 04/11/04 02:36:07 PM EDT

Sun is the second largest contributor of source code to open source, behind UC Berkeley. That makes Sun the largest corporate donor of source code to open source. Visit http://www.sunsource.net.

Sun resells multiple Linux distributions and has a desktop based on Linux, the Sun Java Desktop System. The Sun Java Enterprise System runs on Linux.

John Clingan
Sun Microsystems

snubbie 02/27/04 01:21:58 AM EST

The world's second largest vendor of proprietary software is publicly demanding that the worlds second largest vendor of proprietary software forego copyrights to it's last remaining relevant intellectual property asset, which in the final analysis, amounts to a trademark and the compliance tests associated with it. It's like a big masquerade. Fortunately few people are falling for it.

Daniel MD 02/24/04 10:58:54 AM EST

What is really important is not if java is open source or not...

Microsoft is the new kid on the block and is dominating the virtual machine software scene with it's .NET platform in only 4 years they have done what SUN was not able to do in a decade, and because of that is now paying the price (in share value) and reputation, the .NET platform already has all the features and is faster than 1.5 tiger, the only thing that is missing is support for platforms different from windows, and believe me, if MSFT sees a window of opportunity (no pun intended) they will grab the remaining Unix, and BSD platforms, and java will be relegated to secondary place, where many languages lie today (Smalltalk, etc...), what SUN needs to do is work faster, if they can do that with the help of the community then open source it, if they on the other side believe that can do a better job by working in house, then do it, but by GOD do it FASTER...

IMHO, SUN is a company that will last no more than half a decade, if they continue this course of action, and in 5 years java will be open source... because there will be no more SUN, darkness will rule, SUN will shine no more.

So, Mr. Scott McNealy take that stupid penguin suit off and run your company like a real business men, with some focus, and guts to take head on the giant corporation that is MSFT.

Daniel MD
IM-Thinking Consulting

Michael Franz 02/24/04 10:12:00 AM EST

What about Kaffe?

Manfred Morgner 02/24/04 04:57:18 AM EST

I believe ESR did the right thing going the wrong way. In my mind, it's a bad idea to shoot to someone if you ask him for something. On the other hand, as long as Java is not free (means: under a free license) all Java-based free projects are subject of problems, coming if Sun changes there mind in there license strategy.

If someone binds his free (?) software project to any non-free environment, he has to expect the complete loose of his work on any coming day.

One point is "being a friend of free software" and the other point is, "publishing software under a free license". The first may chance at any moment, the second can not.

So - the right way seems to be: Not using Java for free software until the licnese of Java itself is free.

Anything that exists is worth to disappear. So, if Java will come to death in case of some other solution or the wrong license, it simply dies. This means not more than the death of any other already dead project, language, produkt....

May be, ESR had a bad day so he shoot to someone. That's all, I believe.

sunjustwishesitwasmicrosoft 02/21/04 02:45:54 AM EST

Sun won't do it, they probably hope some time in the future to finally sell it in some proprietary format.

Dave Blizzard 02/20/04 06:52:28 PM EST

I've been teaching and using Java for years and I've finally had enough. It is not where it should be and I don't see it getting there. Its getting more complex without making the simple things work correctly. Another bad move.

I'm putting my bet on c# and Mono. Sun just plain blew it.

Too bad but life goes on.


Fecal Extrusion 02/19/04 05:20:46 PM EST

Sun COULD treat an open-source JAVA, the way the Linux
kernel is treated.
Sun could play the role of Linus Torvalds.

The community may suggest/propose changes to the language,
but Sun exclusively decides what does and does not get added
to the language.

I don't know what the big deal of disclosing it is...
Microsoft saw the source code and now there's 2 flavours
of Java source and interpreter (still) circulating
around the internet.
...And Microsoft did this with the intent to destroy Java. The 'community' would not likely have the same evil mindset
and intent.

blogwatcher 02/19/04 09:02:20 AM EST

Phil Webster, writing at java.net, has raised an interesting point: "It might also be interesting to have a related discussion on partially open Java, ie. the merit of having a Libre implementation of the Java Platform (VM and JFC APIs) while still leaving the Java Language specification under Sun's stewardship."

Fecal Extrusion 02/19/04 08:28:36 AM EST

"If you build it they will come"
"If you open-source it they will use it"

If Sun open sources JAVA, it WILL become ubiquitous,
everyone will use it, and the numbers will be so great
that even Microsoft will not have the resources or power
to displace or kill it.

ashishK 02/19/04 08:11:39 AM EST

fyi Sun's Simon Phipps has this morning blogged to the effect that Eric Raymond's "Java rant" (Phipps' term for ESR's Open Letter to Scott McNealy) is "unhelpful."

"I do wish he'd called or e-mailed before posting," Phipps comments, adding that "there are several people who no doubt would have done some helpful commenting and turned the thing into helpful (if perhaps impatient) support for Sun's significant open source thrust. As it is, [ESR] just hurts the people who are trying to make the right things happen."

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