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Sun exec explains open source Java

The day has finally come for open source Java, as Sun announced the popular programming language would be freely distributed under the GPL. One Sun exec spoke with about what, exactly, this all means for IT.

Today, Sun Microsystems Inc. did what many pundits, media personalities, developers and IT managers wanted done months ago -- it opened up Java so that it could be freely distributed under the General Public License (GPL).

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In this interview with, Laurie Tolson, the vice president of Java developer products and programs, discussed this important milestone for Java and what it meant for Sun, developers and IT managers. The press and punditry have been on this "Java should be open" bandwagon for a while now. Well, why should Java be open?

Laurie Tolson: We believe Java is at a point in time in its lifecycle where it is seen as mature from the standpoint of the Java community. The applications compatibility is there; we have programs in place that are at the level of maturity where people want them to be free and open. In the earlier days, there was always the premise that this is what people wanted. But, in those early days, opening [Java] was not as easy to do -- to just open up and rally around. Now people know what [an open Java] should look like. Today, Java is also getting into the Linux space, with developers and software that want you to be open source, and with this move, Java can now play there more efficiently.

Why now? Why not six months ago?

Tolson: Simply, it would not have been ready six months ago. This is a very meaty piece of technology and it took years to develop it. There's a lot of IP from various sources that have made it what it is today. Going through that code, we had to make sure things remained legal and under the right license so that people can do things downstream without issue. There are some six million lines of code in Java. We have narrowed down the code and separated the code that still does not have free rights to be distributed. That code can still be distributed as we have been doing, but [Java Standard Edition] owners have not yet been given permission for full rights. We distribute it as a binary for now, and we have all code under the GPL.

Let's pretend I'm an IT manager, not a developer. How does an open Java help me?

Tolson: This is going to help you to feel comfortable that you will be able to make changes quickly if you had to do it yourself. If the release schedule is not in time with what you need, open source gives you the ability to do that on your own schedule. Of course, you still have the option to subscribe to a fully supported piece of software, as we offer now, to give you a safety net.

And what about developers?

Tolson: The other part of the equation is the developers, and when we look at them there are at least two segments. There are open source developers who will participate actively in the project, who donate code and who think about what kind of features and functionality they want to create as they innovate from the bleeding edge of the platform. They are the ones who are going to express the strongest opinions and be known in the community. I think for those folks this news means they have greater freedom to innovate at the edge.

And then we start to think about the professional Java community. For those folks it means they will get Java as they always have before. This openness is good for them because it will result in more energy and interest in innovation in Java in general. That befits all Java developers. For many of these developers, Linux is gaining momentum, and by using the GPL, it makes things easy for those distros to include Java.

What does the Java roadmap look like from here on out? What new opportunities are there, either for Sun or for the community?

Tolson: New opportunities would be innovation that Sun hasn't or couldn't do on its own. The opportunity lies in opening Java even further. There will be a wider base of developers using and developing Java, and bringing it into their workplaces. This will build an ecology around Java.

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