Sun’s Open-Source Outreach Met with Mixed Emotions

Sun Microsystems has been a prime supporter of open source in the enterprise, in its own way, for years, mainly through the OpenOffice, NetBeans and OpenSolaris communities.

Yet due to restrictive and often-tangled licensing practices involving Java, Jini networking and other home-grown technologies, the company has never fully earned the respect—or trust—of the open-source community.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company is now firmly dedicated to improving that relationship—and not only in the software department.

While resisting increasing pressure to open up the Java programming language itself, Sun nonetheless is wading deeper into the open-source pool than it ever has before.

At its annual JavaOne conference, being hosted in San Francisco the week of May 15, the company will announce a series of strategic moves involving more user-friendly licensing, the creation of new open-source communities and a new batch of software to be released into the open-source cosmos.

Click here to read more about the chances of Sun open-sourcing Java.

Reaction to Sun’s moves has been as diverse as the software development and analyst community itself.

“First off, it’s important to note that Sun has been a huge, net producer of open-source software,” Matt Asay, business development vice president at Alfresco Software, in Palo Alto, Calif., told eWEEK via e-mail.

Asay, co-founder of Open Source Business Conference and former open-source director at Novell, has worked with the open-source community since 1998.

“The company has been generous and generally quite smart in its open-source strategy. Under Jonathan [Schwartz]’s leadership, I’m confident this will accelerate. Its moves this week are on the light side, but represent further steps in the right direction for Sun,” Asay wrote.

“Java, however, is an inexplicable blight on Sun’s otherwise enviable open-source record. It is unfathomable to me how such a basic building block of technology—Java—can remain closed source.

“Especially when to do so yields net positives for Sun. I can’t think of a single, credible negative side effect for Sun [if it were] to open-source Java.

Sun’s reasons for continued closure can’t be competitive or capitalist in nature, Asay said.

“Java generates very little revenue for Sun. It gives Sun no competitive advantage. In short, Sun has no good capitalist reason for keeping Java closed, and every capitalist incentive to open it up.

Click here to read what Schwartz had to say about open-source Java.

Asay noted that Alfresco has customers, primarily in the government vertical, who cannot use Alfresco because Java remains a closed-source product.

“Every other piece of Alfresco is 100 percent open source, but not the JVM [Java virtual machine],” he said. “If we were alone in this, that would be our problem. But there’s a huge population of great Java software that will be locked out of a rising population of government and other users because of Java’s licensing. It’s time to open it up.”

Analyst Michael Gartenberg of Jupitermedia, in Darien, Conn., told eWEEK, that this isn’t overly shocking news, given the company’s slow-but-sure move toward open source in the past.

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