Sun slowly rising on open-source Java

Sun Microsystems Inc. launched a portal site for its Java programming language on Tuesday as the company inches closer to making the Java code open source, a company executive said.

The Web site, details the company’s moves to open-source the first bits of the Java SE (Standard Edition) implementation, known as the JDK (Java Development Kit), said Simon Phipps, Sun’s chief open source officer. It’s also a forum for input on the best way to take Java to open source, he said.

“I don’t think that I or any of the people in Sun’s Java organization know how to take Java and make it into a successful open-source community,” Phipps said. “We’ve got ideas. We’re fairly confident that it’s possible, but we really need the advice and insight of the existing communities to help us get to that place.”

Sun’s move to open-source Java is part of a broad company restructuring following replacement in April of co-founder Scott McNealy with Jonathan Schwartz as chief executive officer. Sun has undertaken several other open-source projects, including its OS with OpenSolaris and the open-source tools platform NetBeans.

Sun hopes that open source will drive adoption of its software by making it easily available, according to a paper from Forrester Research Inc. authored by Michael Goulde and John R. Rymer.

Phipps said Sun hasn’t decided what part of the Java code will be released first. Sun officials said a Java programming compiler and the HotSpot Virtual Machine could be among the first elements that are open sourced.

The code, however, will be released under a license approved by the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to open-source software. Java ME (Micro Edition), a mobile platform, will also eventually be open source, Phipps said.

Sun is sorting through the code to ensure it has the proper rights to make it open source. While the company created the Java code, Sun may not have the complete rights to all of it, Phipps said.

Open-sourcing Java won’t have an immediate effect on Sun. The company, Phipps said, believes customers will only pay for software when they begin to get value from it. Java was designed to push Sun’s system business, he said.

Eventually, the open-source environment will mean faster fixes for bugs and fewer code defects, according to Phipps. The Java Community Process (JCP), Sun’s organization for managing the code, should continue to have the same function, he said.

“At the moment, I don’t see any necessary changes to the JCP,” Phipps said.

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