This was a letter I recently wrote to Sun’s head of global communications, Russ Castronovo, after reading his interview with Chuck Talk on orangecrate.com, and then reading the ongoing pro-/anti-Mono arguments over at PlanetGnome. Now that Sun seems to be on the brink of making the decision to open-source Java (or not to), I thought it would be an appropriate time to take action.
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Subj: A case for open-sourcing Java
Date: 6/4/2004 11:58:25 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Michael Klein
To: Russ Castronovo
I recently read your interview with Chuck Talk on OrangeCrate.com, and I must say I was impressed. He asked some very tough questions, and you answered with aplomb.
I’m writing to you, based on my own personal beliefs, to make a case for open-sourcing Java. That case is relatively simple: If you don’t open-source Java, Microsoft will have the upper hand in both Windows and Linux software. That’s because right now, Mono is allowing developers to write for .NET and Linux simultaneously. I’m not sure how closely you or Sun has been following the debate (I would hope very closely, considering the vested interest in Linux and OpenOffice that Sun has), but basically it comes down to whether to use .NET or Java as the next-generation infrastructure of Linux’s Gnome desktop environment (as well as core applications and eventually KDE as well). If the Ximian team has their way, Microsoft’s .NET will win out, and regardless of whether Microsoft ends up charging licensing fees, they will hold control over Linux’s next-generation development platform.
But all this is still not irreversable. Havoc Pennington said it first I believe, and it’s still viable: use Java instead. The problem there is that, for the moment, .NET (as illogical as this may sound) is seen as more open that Java, because Microsoft has submitted various API’s for standardization. If Java were open-sourced, I have very little doubt that the entire Linux and open-source community would back it as THE successor to C and C++ as the building blocks of the Linux desktop, and Mono and .NET would drop by the wayside, to be remembered only as a bad dream.
I also feel that the continued standardization of Java is not at issue. Given the appropriate standardization committies, simply occuring outside of the corporate ownership construct, I see no reason why the GPL couldn’t prove just as useful to Java as it has proven to Linux in general. Just because Linux distributions have some incompatibilities that relate to package management (ie RPM vs Debian) and desktop environments (ie KDE vs Gnome), does not mean such problems will affect Java (after all, the Java VM doesn’t just not care what DE you’re using, it doesn’t care what OS or CPU either!) I’d like to think that standardization might even be helped by open-sourcing, because the tools to test one’s application would be free for anyone to use.
The set-up is perfect now. Mono is not fully out the door, and the collection of applications written for it is still small. Sun has already rewritten OpenOffice in Java, from what I hear. Why not stop .NET in its tracks right now, before it spreads any further?
Even if Sun eventually drops its Linux strategy (and quite frankly, Sun has all but spelled this out to the press), Solaris would still be losing out on all of the free software (one obvious example being Evolution) that would have been made using Mono. Or, even worse, this software would be included, but Microsoft would have to be payed for the licensing!
Please take this case into consideration. Otherwise, I fear MS technology will infiltrate its way into even the purest MS-free zone, the Gnome DE, along with applications such as Evolution, which are useful for all Unix-based OS’s.
About the Author:
Michael Klein is a computer science student at Earlham College in Indiana, USA. Reading OSNews is one of his greatest addictions. Occasionally he appends his opinions to out-of-date articles under the moniker Moochman.