It started last month with a letter from open source guru Eric Raymond and some encouragement from IBM, both of which put pressure on Sun Microsystems Inc. to open-source the Java programming language.
The debate over whether to release the Java source code continues, as IBM, Sun and others maintain a dialogue on the issue. The idea of open source Java has generated healthy rhetoric and rancor, as industry watchers speculate about the political motivations behind IBM's interest in a free Java distribution and about the potential contributions that Java stands to gain from open source developers.
Enterprise Web services also stand to gain from the trickle down, since most services are written on either Java or .NET.
"There is a level of openness already, but [incremental increases in] innovation could occur by adopting the open source community's approach," said Michael Gilpin, a vice president and research director with Forrester Research.
Java source code is available for scrutiny, but implementations cannot be called Java unless they pass a Sun-administered compatibility test. During a recent media event, Sun software vice president Jonathan Schwartz said his company does not want Java to fork in many different directions. Compatibility, he said remains Sun's No. 1 concern.
IBM, meanwhile, has been accused of maneuvering Java toward open source in order to sell and support its own distribution.
Experts, meanwhile, see this as political wrangling and Sun desperately hanging on to a viable property.
"I think it would be positive if Java went open source," said ZapThink LLC senior analyst Ronald Schmelzer. "It would go a long way toward advancing Web services technologies and specifications. Our hope is that if opening Java quickens the pace of development and we see more contributions, we'll see faster adoption of Web services and a great connection between service-oriented architecture and Java."
Recently, IBM's director of WebSphere software, Bob Sutor, told SearchWebServices.com that most Web services will be built on Java, and that he hopes current talks with Sun will result in an open source Java distribution.
"Our view on this is that it can only help. That's all we're trying to do here. We think Java is a terrific language. We've been dealing with it for eight or nine years and we've based major portions of our product line on it, as have major companies like BEA, Oracle, Sun. It's an industry. We want it to be as successful and pervasive as possible."
While experts wonder about Big Blue's ulterior motives, IBM has said that it and BEA Systems Inc. are ready to be frequent contributors to Java.
"This might give companies more confidence to invest in Java," Schmelzer said.
When considering an open source Java, IBM's Sutor mentions the success of Linux and the interoperability availed by an open, common operating system. He also said IBM would continue to contribute code to Java.
"By having [Java] open source, we're willing to contribute to this," he said. "We have a lot of stuff, and we know BEA, Oracle, Sun does, too. If we could produce an official, open source implementation of Java, we would remove a tremendous amount of redundancy. We could focus our efforts on the higher-level aspects of development," Sutor said.
"Why do you have ... Java? To build higher-level applications for customers. That's the point. We're not going to spend forever on the plumbing, but on the cool stuff that benefits the industry. By open-sourcing, we get wider adoption and drive more innovation into that plumbing itself."
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