Will Sun Open-Source Java?

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 04-30-2006

New Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz's first 100 days at the helm are about to get interesting. First up: managing an internal debate over whether the company should open-source Java.

According to sources inside Sun, an ongoing debate over whether to open-source Java is coming to a head with the JavaOne conference looming May 16. Schwartz, who led the open-sourcing of Solaris, could not be reached for comment on the matter.

A former Sun exec calls on the company to open-source Java. Click here to read more.

Nevertheless, opponents of the idea are trying "to get time with Schwartz now that he is CEO so they can get their point of view across before the JavaOne conference in May, where some speculate he may announce the open-sourcing of Java," said a source close to Sun who requested anonymity.

What Schwartz will ultimately decide on Java remains to be seen, but it's another item on his long to-do list. Schwartz, who took the reins from Scott McNealy April 24, has to keep Wall Street happy and structure Sun so it will be consistently profitable. Sun hasn't reported an annual profit since 2001 and had a loss of $217 million for the fiscal third quarter of 2006, which ended March 26.

Meanwhile, skeptics of Schwartz abound. Financial services company JP Morgan, of New York, issued a research note April 25 that said it is "concerned that Jonathan Schwartz may bring less change to Sun than an outside candidate could have."

For his part, Schwartz remains confident. "First, we're in an industry that is only going to grow. For the rest of our lives, the network is only going to expand, as is the demand for the products which Sun builds. Sun is in a great position today to capitalize on this network growth," he told eWEEK in an e-mail interview. "We're ready to deliver."

Against that backdrop, Schwartz will have to weigh the future of Java. Schwartz has not balked at making some big decisions in his previous roles at Sun, most notably getting the Santa Clara, Calif., company to reverse course and commit to a version of Solaris for x86 hardware, and later open-sourcing the company's flagship operating system.

So far, Sun has resisted many calls to open-source Java. The reason: Sun fears doing so will open the doors for competitors to grab and change Java, resulting in the kernel forking and compatibility problems.

John Loiacono, Sun's former executive vice president of software, who recently took an executive position at Adobe Systems, of San Jose, Calif., admitted as much in an exclusive interview with eWEEK. "One of the projects we were working on was how far we should go with opening Java, to the point of absolutely open-sourcing it. But we always came back to the question of who we were ultimately appeasing with the move and how such a move benefits Sun customers and shareholders," Loiacono said.

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