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Flashback to '04: IBM to Sun – "Let's Collaborate on Open-Sourcing Java"

IBM Writes Open Letter to Sun

Two years ago Rod Smith (pictured), IBM Software's VP of Emerging Technologies (and still with IBM today), wrote an open letter to Rob Gingell, Sun's Chief Engineer (now with Cassatt). IBM, Smith said, 'would like to work with Sun on an independent project to open source Java.'

Here is the open letter in full:

"Hi Rob,

This is an open letter to Sun.

I read a February 5th article, in which Simon Phipps was quoted on open source Java, with quite a bit of interest.

If you don't have the article, it is available here.

In the article, Simon asked, "Why hasn't IBM given its implementation of Java to the open-source community?" I'm sure you recall the discussion we had over dinner in December around open sourcing Java. Simon's comment appears to be an offer to jointly work toward this common goal. IBM is a strong supporter of the open source community, and we believe that a first class open source Java implementation would further enhance Java's position in the industry by spurring growth of new applications and encouraging new innovation in the Java platform.

Here is the offer: IBM would like to work with Sun on an independent project to open source Java. Sun's strong commitment to open source Java would speed the development of a first class and compatible open source Java implementation to the benefit of our customers and the industry. IBM is ready to provide technical resources and code for the open source Java implementation while Sun provides the open source community with Sun materials, including Java specifications, tests and code. We are firmly convinced the open source community would rally around this effort and make substantial contributions as well.

This would be a very exciting step for IBM and Sun. I am convinced that the creation of an open source implementation of the Java environment would be of enormous importance to the developer community and our industry's collective customers. It would open a whole world of opportunity for new applications and growth of the Java community. In addition, this would accelerate the growth and adoption of technologies that are built on Java and are critical to our customers today, including Web services and Service Oriented Architecture.

Regards, Rod"

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
NextSteps 05/05/06 11:11:27 AM EDT

| IBM is ready to provide technical resources
| and code for the open source Java
| implementation while Sun provides the open
| source community with Sun materials,
| including Java specifications, tests and
| code.

I wonder how close this is to being IBM's continuing position today? Maybe if Sun would join Eclipse (and if IBM would consent to renaming it less aggressively!) this would be the next logical step...

El Galileo 03/08/04 01:12:25 PM EST

Vikky looks like you are thiking on the IBM mainframe (S/390 or zSeries)or you are talking about Microsoft.

IBM has a lot of OSes, like AIX, zOS (OS/390), OS/400, the one that runs on POS, OS/2 and for all of their OSes they have developed the JAVA JDK.

IBM is supporting the Open Source Community and Linux, of course that they are looking for profit with corporate customers, but open sourcing Java will benefit all of us, not only IBM.

Java has helped Corporate customer to migrate from a plataform to another without major problems. Java allows to don't have dependecies on OS's developers. Making Java open source will mark it as the best choice for a development language on the market.

Vikky 03/01/04 04:10:50 PM EST

I think "Gang Guo" and "miko matsumura " were right, or atleast I believe same. IBM definately playing a political brain game here with SUN. May be its law of nature like stronger eats weeker. So it may happen. I heard that roar long back like "we have more people working for java then sun" cannot tell exact detail where and when.

As a user of java I don''t want to see variation in behavior of java implementation, or multiple version of java.
But when IBM gets in anywhere few thing happens:
1. Things are not free.
2. Documents not available completely
3. So u need IBM support.
4. Every thing is flaky, I consider e.g. WSAD as flaky.
5. Confusive behaviour of same version of tool on same
platform.
6. Open source becomes useless like eclipse, I may like to
use textedit then flaky eclipse.

Bottom line IBM sucks money for everything, but I like their business model.

SUN is like Ph. D. Student which dont know how to do business. Just invent and do innovations.

IBM is business man (like donald trump).

So the difference exist, and busines man wants freedom, Phd student love its baby by heart.
So IBM is not wrong and SUN is also not wrong.
IBM is wrong only at one place and that is asking java (though not free wanted to share money too..) But u know when u ask to other, that other end has full right to deny,
and IBM must not shout against that at all in any form direct or indirectly.....
Rather they must come up with Kava IBM everywhere anywhere
write once.

For all those who says IBM is great open source company.
I have not seen any product as good as java from IBM yet.

I think SUN should not have responded to IBM in yes instead
should have denied immediately without explanation, I mean
its like asking my baby for free, I mean Y, give me one reason without saying oh community will benefit oh vendor will benefit oh it will spread across the universe this all is unclear statement.

JAVA HAS DID THAT ALL AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO, IF IT MAINTAINS ITS QUALITY AND PROMISE.

I am giving reason and that is IBM will BENEFIT and nobody else nor developer either.

miko matsumura 02/28/04 04:06:31 PM EST

The implications of this proposal are not unduly radical in my opinion and it is a much more reasonable proposition than it may sound at first take. The open source area would be just the VM and language and maybe a few core things. This is predicated on the idea that the system is sufficiently stable that freeing it would *prevent* fragmentation as opposed to promoting fragmentation. This is a reasonable supposition. Rod Smith is a reasonable and good guy.

As it happens, IBM would gain great advantage if this happened. IBM loves open source because of its revenue model and Sun might lose some of the Java shine if it did so. The bottom line is that there is a bit of a coded message in this letter. Sun Microsystems would never respond to such a letter by open sourcing Java. This is because politically speaking it would be embarassing for Sun to respond to IBM by doing what they say. I think IBM knows this. So it''s more of a political dance for IBM to suggest this to Sun. Sun might open source Java, I was a part of a number of such conversations within Sun during my tenure there. They just never will in response to a request coming from IBM.

amsterdamvallon 02/28/04 02:54:48 PM EST

The problem is the way Java is being developed and maintained as a proprietary programming language base.

There are two major Java implementations currently in use -- one by IBM, one by Sun Microsystems. Both of them may come without charge, but are without the freedom that would make them qualify as Free Software.

Therefore, all software written in Java (even software under a Free Software license) running on such a platform will "put the user''s freedom at risk" (a quote from FSF/GNU people). It''s like running Free Software on Windows.

If you want more detailed 411 about the status of Free Software versions of Java, go here.[gnu.org]

Devon 02/27/04 01:34:15 PM EST

This is great news. Here is the financial impetus to finally convince Sun to let us have an open source version of Java. This is a win-win situation. The open source community finally gets what they want, and Sun still keeps control over the direction of Java. Get ready for an explosion of new Java possibilities!

Layton 02/27/04 10:54:30 AM EST

For those who wish we had our own implementation of web technologies to compete with .net and java -- go look at php and the mozilla project. php can do most of the server side stuff that I have seen or heard of being done in java, and the mozilla project has quietly become a full portable application development environment which happens to include a lot of client side web technologies.

We have what we need to do it without java or .net, but it demands that the people who have invested years learning and developing java based environments would have to start over. An open source java would mean that, for example, all the java work that the apache foundation has done will remain valid for years to come reguardless of what should happen to Sun. otherwise, all the stuff they have done would have to be scrapped and done over in another environment.

Personally, I think it would have been wiser to go off on our own and build our own technologies, but what is done is done. On the other hand, If there hadn't been a lot of open source work done on the java platform, who knows what the web services environment might look like now? .net might have actually gotten some traction, or the commercial java interests might have owned the day and not left room for the alternatives.

Anonymous Coward 02/27/04 09:59:59 AM EST

Its looks like another heavy hand tactic from IBM and MSFT behind it.. Why dont IBM ask MSFT to open up .NET ? If you want to something to penetrate in to the corporate world it needs a leader and lot of proponents. I bet if Sun makes JAVA open source, immediately MSFT will start a marketing campaign on bashing it , dont give that opportunity to them.. I will ask SUN to listen to the community and make changes rather then being a hindrance and start this whole topic of make JAVA opensource. Java zindabad !!

Gang Guo 02/27/04 04:17:19 AM EST

You get jdk free for you to use,and j2ee implementation as well, j2ee blue print etc, I think this is fine enough!
do not try to involved into the vendors' game, let them play as long as you have java to play for free!!!
I support sun, let him control java,we all can see sun push java a lot for free; do not let ibm messy it, like they tried to do on swing, ibm is just an other j2ee world microsoft, he is trying to kill all others, only himself own everything, have you get CICS open source, have you got WebSphere open source, and also had IBM invited Sun join WS-I before, everybody knows this big ugly Blue did what.

simply happy 02/27/04 03:45:52 AM EST

Wow!
I love IBM. I love RedHat (who have tried it before) and I love OpenSource.

I think this is the answer to Suns comment at:
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/news_story.php?id=53646

Sun says: "Sun would support an Open Source version of Java, but it need a lot of money and time to do so."

And IBM says now: Ok, we do it.

And I think, Sun _must_ assent to it, if they don't want to seem unreliable.

Sun have lamented, IBMs position of the eclipse-project.
Remember: Eclipse is OpenSource - Jav isn't. But Sun wanted, that eclipse is completly producer-neutral.
In this point Sun have reached his goal. IBM makes eclipse to an open community, where IBM have no longer a special position.

Now, its the other side around. IBM says, that Sun have a special position in Java. And they want that Java will be OpenSource and producer-neutral.
Now, Sun, fulfil your part and let Java be OpenSource.

larry 02/26/04 10:54:56 PM EST

My biggest issue in all this is cross platform compatibility. The moment java stops being cross platform capable it is becomes useless.

It is all well and good to do whatever you want but then how will all these java-esque languages interoperate. If you answer than by so what this this is not a useful discussion. There are millions of java development efforts that rely on common libraries, tools, etc.

Richard 02/26/04 12:53:24 PM EST

The OpenSource crowd has never been happy with the lack of total freedom presented by either Java or .NET, and thus campaign for the opening of both systems. There are opensource versions of both Java and .NET in heavy development, but why are we bothering? Why dont we just come up with our own Java/.NET-like language, which we control, which is under the BSDL and thus an Open Standard? Why are we constantly clamouring for the owners of the systems to give us a break, when we could probably go off on our own, create our own language which is jsut as good, allows ups to stipulate our own restrictions on the usage, and best of all, we are not beholden to ANYONE because its ours 100%. While big business sometimes claims to innovate while masking the fact it bought the advancements in, there has been little innovation in the Open Source arena (dont flame, im stating it as i see it), and a lot of rushing to get where someone else has been previously.

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