Users want more details on open-source Java

The fear of fragmentation à la Linux and Unix is one of several concerns developers have. Heather Havenstein reports

While users welcomed Sun Microsystems’ plan to release Java to open source, they say a lack of details about the announcement makes it difficult to determine the impact of whatever the company is aiming to do.

At the JavaOne conference Sun executives said that the company would release Java to open source. But they did not provide a timetable or any details about how they would structure the licensing. Sun has been criticised for its past efforts around OpenSolaris and OpenOffice because it didn’t use the traditional GPL licences used by most open-source software.

Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group, says users will have to wait and see exactly what Sun will be releasing to open source before knowing the full significance of the announcement.

“There wasn’t that much detail to the announcement,” Kaplan says. “Going from a proprietary system to open source, people still have to wait and see what will be open source — all of J2EE, the application server, the development tools or a more narrow part.”

In addition, he says, users always have concerns about how customer service will be affected when a proprietary tool gets released to open source.

“The other concern people have ... is how the quality of support calls and service calls get affected,” he says. “The mainstream is generally positive as long as the quality, scalability, security and compatibility remain intact. Those things still remain to be seen.”

Overall, he says, many users will welcome the announcement — even with few details available — because of the growing popularity of open source software within the enterprise.

“When open source first came out, it was largely the technologist that was implementing it, but the enterprise was shying away,” Kaplan says. “But just the announcement that Java to some degree — possibly all of it — will be coming to open source shows how open source is really getting adopted in the enterprise. The advantages are the cost savings to the users [and] the ability for people to develop third-party solutions on top of the stack.”

One of the reasons Sun has given repeatedly over the years for not releasing Java to the open-source community is fear that the language would get “fractured,” resulting in incompatible implementations by different vendors.

Dimitrios Gianninas, rich internet application developer at Optimal Payments, says it is too early to tell if Sun’s announcement will lead to incompatible implementations of Java. His company, a Montreal-based electronic payments processor, over the past year has replaced several commercial Java tools with open source tools. The company rarely modifies the open source tools it uses, he says.

“I’m pretty sure there would be a base version of Java that would be distributed by Sun, and that’s what everyone would use,” he says. “There might be some compatibility issues regarding application servers that are running and testing on version ‘X,’ but version ‘Y’ of Java is out now.”

However, he thinks vendors would move quickly to embrace the latest versions of the langue.

Frank Enfanto, vice president of healthcare services system delivery at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, says he doubts that the announcement will lead to Sun altering its research and development efforts around the language. Most large organisations still would buy support from Sun, even if the language was released to open source, he says.

“When they open-source something, you still have to buy some sort of support, otherwise you are on your own,” he says. “You can’t run a company without the support.”