Anthony Taylor [opinions]

Sun's right move: GPL Java [free-software] [java] [gpl]

Today marks the rebirth of Java. Sun has announced their intent to release thesource code for Java under the GPL. If this isn't some of the bestnews in a long time, I don't know what is.

The freeing of Java

Sun isn't releasing all of the code. It seems there are partsof Java Sun doesn't own, and for which Sun hasn't been able tonegotiate releasing under the GPL. But, it appears this is a tiny bitof the code.

This is the most important announcement for free software in quite afew months. Java is a big part of many enterpriseapplications. Although the free software world has had Blackdown and Kaffe as a Java platforms, theyare not nearly as complete as the official Sun version, though bothare very good free software projects.

Now free software projects can use Java without worry or care. Coupledwith the most excellent SWTwidget set, Java isn't a bad choice for desktop applications. Theyhave provided a "classpath exception," meaning proprietary closedsoftware can include the Java libraries as they do now, without worryof GPL violation.

It will take a little while to get the source code released. Sun saysit expects a "fully buildable Java SE Development Kit (JDK) basednearly entirely on open-source code" to be released in the first halfof 2007. I'm not sure what "nearly entirely" means here, but I'mtrusting Sun on this, at least for now.

I don't question Sun's decision to free up Java. They have proven afriend to free software in the past. An inconstant friend, but afriend nonetheless. Their decision to use the GPL is pleasing andsurprising. Perhaps this signals a new direction in Sun's dedicationto software freedom.

There will be a lot of speculation that Sun is doing this in responseto C# and .Net. That may be their motivation. Or it might be that theyare finally conceding that free software is an excellent developmentmodel. It's done wonders for OpenOffice, for instance. Or it might bethey are finally giving in to those of us who have been asking themfor years to completely open up Java.

Whatever their reasons, this is a banner day. James, Jonathon, I thank you andall the others at Sun who have worked hard to release Java out intothe world. This is a contribution that will outlast any other of Sun'slegacies.


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