Sun Microsystems president, CEO

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In a bid to gain a sweet spot in the burgeoning mobile applications market, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday announced it will open source key Java components.

“Let’s stop calling them pirates. Let’s call them users,” said Sun president and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, as he outlined his company’s strategy to increase Java adoption. Let’s stop calling them pirates. Let’s call them users.Jonathan Schwartz >Text

The Sun chief noted that open sourcing doesn’t mean less revenue. “Free software generates adoption and adoption grows business,” Schwartz said on the opening day of the JavaOne 2006 developer conference.

Sun also released Java Enterprise Edition 5 release (Java EE 5), billed by the company as the most significant update in six years. Java EE 5 supports several important Web services standards and is designed to be easier to use than its predecessor, Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

Over the years, Sun has open sourced many Java components, but has stopped short of opening up the core Java specifications. The company worries such a move could threaten Java’s “write once, run anywhere” promise by allowing another company to promote an incompatible version of Java.

Sun software executive vice-president Rich Green voiced some of these concerns.

“There are two battling forcers here,” said Green, who returned to the company just weeks ago. “There is the desire to completely open this up … the flip side is, compatibility really matters. I don’t think anybody wants to see a diverging Java platform.”

“The challenge going forward is how to solve for both of those things,” he added. “It’s not a question of whether, it’s a question of how, and so we’ll go do this.”

Industry insiders say the success of this new strategy depends on Sun maintaining a delicate balance between openness and software compatibility.

David Senf, an analyst with the research firm IDC Canada said the move would make it easier for programmers to used as well as integrate upgrades into the software could help accelerate the adoption of Java. However, the initiative could prove “negative if Java is opened without compatibility and is not plug-and-play.”

He said Sun must ensure past, present and future Java software knits together well, while not standing in the way of the update process.

He said ISVs and customers need to protect their investment, while being able to support new features or make changes quickly. Sun is on the hook for making sure there aren’t negative repercussions, Senf said.

“If they can keep compatibility and make this work, I see competitors taking notice and perhaps even following suite,” said Curtis Gittens, an analyst at London, Ont.-based consultancy Info-Tech Research Group Inc.

Jeff Jackson, senior vice-president of Java enterprise platform and developer products said the Java’s development has always been marked by “authenticity, compatibility and transparency.”

“The last thing we would want to do is to jump off that rail.”

Sun’s open source contributions to the Java developer community include Sun Java Studio Creator, Sun Java System Portal Server, The Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) engine from the Sun Java Composite Application Platform Suite (CAPS) and the NetBeans Enterprise Pack as well as the Java Message System (JMS)-based message queue and Web Services Interoperability Technology (WSIT).

Green said Sun would eventually open source Sun’s entire Java middleware stack.

Industry analysts believe the move is geared towards gaining ground in the mobile device market.

Gittens, for instance, says the announcement signals a move to get Java software into mobile devices. “They kept on hammering away at how big the mobile market is. That is definitely going to be their focus.”

During his keynote, Schwartz also highlighted the use of Java in cell phones. He said mobile users were growing at a rate of at least 100 million a year and that more than 1 billion phones will be shipped by the end of 2006. “I can’t think of anything better than Java in Motorola phones,” Schwartz said.

Rather than just being a place to communicate in, the Web is evolving from a repository of information to a source of technology and software.

Analysts cited other benefits of Sun’s strategy. “Another big opportunity lies in being able to interface with Web 2.0,” said Senf. “The only competition at the moment is .Net which will remain a closed proprietary platform controlled by Microsoft.”

Senf said he doesn’t see Microsoft following Sun’s lead anytime soon. “What Microsoft is brilliant at is exposing APIs. There are APIs in Java but you could also get into the codes,” Senf said.

Onno Kluyt, chair of the Java Community Process program agrees. “Intel and Microsoft participate in the community but it is not a part of their mindset. Microsoft sees transparency as a threat,” he said.

Competitors, he added, might open source but not to the extent that Sun does. “Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, they’re pretty much closed companies.”

With files from IDG News Service

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