Sun opening gates to developers

Sun Microsystems Inc. is encouraging developers interested in Java to download the source code and play with it — for free. The catch? If you plan to make money from Java, Sun intends to make money from you.

Under Sun’s new licensing model, announced last month, developers can download Java source code from Sun’s Web site at any time and modify it as they wish. The only time money changes hands is if the developer makes a product, in which case Sun, if it grants approval of the technology, will extract royalties.

Even Sun’s president of Java software, Alan Bartaz, admitted that the new process differs radically from the previous model, where developers paid up-front for access to the source code.

“We are going to allow companies and experts other than Sun Microsystems to take the driver’s seat to play the lead role in developing new APIs,” Baratz said when speaking at last month’s Java Business Expo in New York.

“I think it’s excellent, because what it does is allow people to dive into it, and do their development without putting out a lot of money up front,” said Jaison Dolvane, president of Espial Group Inc. in Ottawa. “I think this model allows management and companies out there to make decisions quicker on how to adapt Java.”

Dolvane said the move is an even greater boost to companies like Espial, which specializes in embedded Java and related “information appliances” that require a high degree of Java customization.

Tracy Corbo, senior analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group in Newton, Mass., said opening the source code and allowing greater flexibility in licensing is a wise move for Sun.

“A lot of the stuff going on in Java is in small start-up companies, and some of these people can’t necessarily handle big up-front licensing fees, so it makes more sense.”

Sun has been criticized by some of its estimated 900,000 developers and partner vendors, most notably IBM Corp., for its tightly-controlled handling of the Java source code, Corbo said.

One user said Sun’s approach to Java still concerns him. “I don’t care if Sun competes with me. Let’s see who’s better. But when the leaders of Java are serving their internal vendors, that’s as bad as Microsoft, the ‘bad guy,'” said John Capobianco, senior vice-president of marketing at Bluestone Software in Mount Laurel, N.J. “I’d rather have an independent body take over all of Java.”

IBM, one of Java’s most influential supporters, is also asking Sun to forego some of its control of the language.

“Clearly, we think that the Java APIs should be housed by an independent body,” said David Gee, program director for Java with IBM in Cupertino, Calif. IBM is encouraging Sun to hand over some portions of Java to the International Standards Organization (ISO).

While IBM may have a legitimate concern, Corbo said Java standards aren’t a good idea. “Standards bodies water things down to the most common denominator, and if you’re not driving things through a revenue model, things go slow.”

Instead, Corbo feels the Java community would be better served by a strong Sun occasionally tempered by IBM. “[IBM] will do everything they can to keep Sun honest, to make sure that they keep focused,” she said.