By Alan Hargreaves-Oracle on Nov 13, 2006
Note that some of the links that I point at are not currently available, but are expected to be soon.
The world just changed and I suspect it's going to be some time before the whole impact is understood.
What am I talking about? For those that have not yet seen, Sun is announcing today that Java will be made available under version 2 of the GPL in a webcast at 9:30 US/Pacific this morning.
The general concensus was that this would never happen in a million years.
So what is actually happenning? Rather then spend too much time here, there is a FAQ available answering what we would hope would be pretty much any question that might exist about this.
What I found most amazing about the announcement is who has come out saying things about it. Most particularly, when I heard Richard Stallman quote:
I think Sun has well, with this contribution have contributed more than any other company to the free software community in the form of software. It shows leadership. It's an example I hope others will follow.
And from Eben Moglen
Sun's policy of GPLing java which we are celebrating now is an extraordinary achievement in returning programming technology to that state of freely available knowledge that people can share and improve together. It's a crucial step in the process of turning the technology today into knowledge that people can use freely to make the technology of tomorrow.
There are a lot more quotes on the announcement site and while I have not yet seen it, I believe that RMS is on video talking about this announcement.
One of the huge things that this opens the way for is for the various Linux distributions to both build and distribute java, including those who have particularly tight licensing guidelines on what they will distribute.
While there has been a lot of press speculation in the weeks leading up to this announcement, I am actually amazed at how little of this announcement has actually leaked.
Anyway, I had been following some of the leadup speculation and there were a couple of articles that particularly piqued my interest.
David Berlind has posted a few interesting articles speculating on the impact of open sourcing java.
In Will Sun blow up the Microsoft/Novell deal to Red Hat's benefit? David makes an interesting link.
Enter Sun's open source Java decision. Novell's Mono project — essentially a Linux-based clone of Microsoft's .Net — was apparently a major focus of the deal. For several years now, dating back to the days before Ximian was under Novell's wing, the open source sector has been wondering if Microsoft was going to drop a shoe on Ximian-founder Miguel de Icaza's brainchild (Mono). .Net has always been a bet-the-company gamble for Microsoft. Today, the company is taking heat on every single front and it can't afford a complete cave-in on one of its most important properties. There's no way it could let a .Net clone get away with murder. Sooner or later, this was going to come to a head. Well, now it has.
But the game is not over yet. That's because Microsoft may not be holding the cards that some think it's holding. At least not all of them. One need only look back at Sun's 2004 stand-still agreement with Microsoft to realize that when it comes to .Net-like virtual machine environements, the real IP holder is probably Sun. I'm not a lawyer. But I'm willing to be that there's hardly anything - probably nothing - in .Net for which prior art doesn't exist in Sun's Java or something that came before it. In fact, looking across Sun's entire portfolio of IP as well as the larger world of older intellectual property, it's quite possible that some of the other software that's often packaged with Linux that could potentially be infringing on Microsoft's IP (i.e. OpenOffice, SAMBA, and Evolution) is actually doing nothing of the sort.
Definitely interesting speculation.
He goes on to say
For one, Sun might not be Red Hat's white knight - but it sure would have just cast a life presever in North Carolina's direction. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if executives from the two companies haven't exchanged notes at this point. Putting Java in the GPL clear would be like tearing a piece off the bottom off the .Net boat. To that extent, not only might the move legally neutralize a key part of the Microsoft-Novell deal, it could technically marginalize .Net's competitiveness. Why? Well, picture the boat. Sun just swam by and chewed a big hole in its bottom. The boat is in bad shape and the crew starts bailing out the water. But, things go from bad to much worse when a school of angry whales, the biggest of which has the letters I-B-M emblazoned on its side, flies out of the water and lands in the boat. Sun may not think of IBM and other Java licensees as the cavalry. But IBM has been laying in waiting for Java to be open sourced the way a starving Burmese python lays in waiting for a rodent to prance by. Here's a story that I wrote in 2002 about those very wishes. A GPL'd Java would be one of Big Blue's moments of glory.
The bigger question for Sun is whether or not it's ready for such a bold opening of its software portfolio. For such a move to make sense, it would have to be completely confident that its hardware and services offerings are potent enough to comfortably put the company in the black and keep it there. It's a model that has worked pretty well for two of its biggest competitors: IBM and HP. Maybe it will work for Sun.
We're are definitely living in interesting times.
In Richard Stallman's shackles: The open source Java acid test? David revisits an essay that Richard Stallman wrote in 2004, in which he had a number of uncomplimentary things to say about Java and it's licensing. Obviously Richard is now much happier with us.
As an aside, one of the commenters to the second article, had this to say:
As to the question "will it pass RMS's smell test or not?" the answer is no.
Well, I believe that what RMS has to say about the whole thing pretty much decides that issue.
It feels like we've just had an enormous shift in the software industry. I don't think anyone really understands just how the industry will be impacted by it.
In many ways I think Sun has firmly laid down the gauntlet to it's competitors to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk". Over the last few years we have had a number of them saying exactly the same thing to us. Well, the line has been firmly drawn in the sand. Sun has released it's two major crown jewels (Java and Solaris) as open source. Should we expect to see DB2 and Openview follow the same path from their respective owners, or shall they just continue to "talk the talk"?
Corrected a couple of typos, including teh spelling of Eben Moglen's name. Sorry about that Eben.