Canucks greet Sun open source news with caution

Canadian IT pros are cautiously upbeat about Sun Microsystems Inc.’s recent announcement that it would set some of its Java technology free to roam the open source development range.

The tech vendor pulled the trigger on its open-source plan yesterday at JavaOne, its conference for programmers held June 26 to 30 in San Francisco. Sun said it would offer code for the Java System Application Server Platform Edition 9.0 and the Java System Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to the open source world, such that developers could build unique versions of the technologies with nary a concern that Sun would sue them for it.

“It’s a good idea,” Greg Hutchinson said of Sun’s open-source plan. He’s the principal application architect at Farm Credit Canada, a Regina, Sask.-based federal government operation that loans money to agricultural businesses. “We already use a lot of open-source tools. Anything else that becomes open source, we’re behind it.”

Robert Lepack, vice-president of marketing at ICEsoft Technologies Inc., a Calgary app-dev tool provider, said his company is trying to figure out how the Sun announcement will affect business, for better or for worse.

“We rely on some of the technologies they’re looking at open sourcing, the application server in particular,” Lepack said. “Our software runs on top of that.”

As some developers prefer to work in all-open-source environments, “we may choose to open source a part of our technology as well, for an easier blend; then we might have commercial releases that augment the open source functionality,” Lepack said. “We have not made the decision to do so, but we’re monitoring the situation.”

According to Tim Bray, Sun’s Vancouver-based Web technologies director, it’s good business, his firm’s decision to release code to the open-source community. The company could make money selling support licences and the like to enterprises using Java heavily, so the more Java, the better for Sun.

“We estimate there’s something like $100 billion a year created in the IT economy by the existence of the Java ecosystem,” Bray said. “We’re quite happy to do things that increase the volume and cash flow of the whole industry because we think we can get our share of it.”

Sun was rapid-firing announcements at JavaOne yesterday. Not only did the Palo Alto, Calif. IT vendor unveil its open-source roadmap, it also announced that IBM Corp. had signed with Sun a 10-year extension on their joint Java technology agreement, which should see Big Blue continue to use Sun’s Java platforms in its software products.

Sun’s executives said it took a year to hammer out the deal’s details; it wasn’t a smooth process, judging by the words of Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s chief operating officer. “The passions were probably higher because there’s more at stake now,” he said, pointing out that Java is becoming a critical technology for software vendors.

Sun also said 20 companies, including itself, plan to build service-oriented architecture (SOA) platforms on Java Business Integration (JBI), a Java Community Process (JCP)-vetted integration spec. Sun’s first JBI offering will be the Java Enterprise System 5, expected to arrive next spring.

As well, Sun unveiled Java Web Services Developer Pack (WSDP) 1.6 to address XML processing bottlenecks. The software employs Fast Infoset for quicker binary encoding and decoding in applications. Sun also released new features for Java Studio Creator 2, its developer tool.

Thanks to requests from programmers, the software, now built on the NetBeans IDE 4.1, includes new refactoring, version control and editing functions, as well as an expanded JavaServer Faces library for richer Web application creation.

Sun introduced new offerings on the hardware side of the IT equation too, notably the Ultra 20 Workstation, sporting an Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) Opteron microprocessor and a unique price: US$30 per month on a three-year subscription. Sun also took the wraps off the Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation, based on the UltraSPARC processor.

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