Sun, Apache group agree on new "open source" Java plan

Imagine there's no Microsoft

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy kicked off the second day of this year's JavaOne developers' conference in San Francisco with a keynote speech in which he challenged Java developers to help ensure that the XML standard for data interchange is not 'hijacked' by software giant Microsoft.

McNealy also took the occasion to unveil an agreement with the Apache Software Foundation, keeper of the popular Apache Web server standard and other protocols, that is said to secure the basic right to implement Java specifications in open source. While elements of the so-called J2EE Java standards have been ceded to open-source groups in the past, basic overall Java licensing and branding responsibilities have remained under the control of Sun, the firm that invented the Java language and environment.

Sun's extensive oversight on new Java enhancements has caused some discomfort in open-source software circles.

The Apache group's move comes in response to a letter of consent from Sun that proposed significant changes to its Java Community Process, and no-cost access to Test Compatibility Kits (TCKs) for qualified non-profits and individuals. In the future, Sun indicated, independent implementations of Java will be allowed under open-source licenses. A three-member board, including a representative from the Apache group, will oversee an open qualification process to make TCKs available.

In a post keynote press conference, McNealy continued his characteristic, often mocking challenges to Microsoft. He explained Sun was promoting an open, shared, community approach to software development that was preferable to offers software developers may receive from Microsoft, which he, using the imagery from the movie "Star Wars," described as "the dark side."

At the press conference, McNealy said "it would really be a problem for Sun if Microsoft hijacked XML," although he deferred when asked to present evidence of this activity. He jibed: "Excuse me for being skeptical of Microsoft's intentions."

The Apache-Sun deal brought tentative support from at least one industry viewer on hand. IBM's Marc Erickson, project manager for the firm's Object Technology Inc. subsidiary, and a prime mover in the Eclipse.org open-source development tool bus effort, sees merit in Java licensing that is more open.

"Anything that can be done that improves openness and levels the playing field is a good thing," said Erickson, commenting on the Apache-Sun announcement.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is editor at large at Application Development Trends and Java Report.