Re: Why Java is not Open Source

(Back in 2003 I ran a moderately popular tech blog on the Radio UserLand platform. This is an archived version of a post from that blog. You can view an index of all the archived posts.)

Thursday, 26 June 2003

The CTO for Sun's Desktop Division Hans Muller writes:

I think that one of the primary reasons that Java is not an open source project is that given the size of the developer community, forks are unacceptable. In other words the millions of developers who build software on top of Java value its stability more than they value the right to get under the hood and fix it.

Hrrrm. That seems like a moderately controversial statement to me, for several reasons:

  1. The community's experience with Python (source), Ruby (source), Perl (source) (and others) might be actively proving otherwise.
  2. The metaphor about cowboys and power plants, like many physical metaphors for software development, simply doesn't work. A version control system alone would alleviate this problem, as would a "gatekeeper" as Muller himself describes in the proceeding paragraphs.
  3. Why not just define a specification and a TCK, hang on to the Java trademark and make folks pay to describe their JRE as such. It's precisely the same strategy used for the J2EE brand, isn't it? Oh, now I get it.
  4. Simply adding a patch mechanism to the Bug Parade and actually accepting them once in a while would seem to be a dramatic step forward, giving Sun many of the benefits of open source (and the development community a few) with little or no risk.

I didn't and still don't expect Sun to open source Java, although not for any of the reasons Muller describes. Yet not having followed the java.net phenomenon very closely, I had took it to be a sign that Sun is getting more clueful about the role of the developer community, and of the open source developer community in particular, in the success of Java, especially relative to the Java Community Process. Perhaps I was wrong.


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