Or at least trying – Sun releases their Java language implementations under the GPL (Hotspot virtual machine for Micro, Standard and Enterprise versions, and the compiler). Which – you’d think – is a good thing, right? I would argue that it may have some very negative effects.. Read on.
Going back for a minute to the latest Microsoft & Novell ground-shaking deal, Amit Aronovitch has a very insightful take on the deal and its possible reasons and consequences. I suggest you go read it, but to make a long story short – he implies that Microsoft is trying to corner the server virtualisation market by offering an all-included Linux + Windows server virtualisation solution out-of-the-box based on the next version of Windows server OS (“longhorn” or however they’ll call it).
Which is an interesting concept, and quite plausible if you link Novel’s deal with the Microsoft – Xen Source dealing, and its quite believable that Microsoft is pulling another Embrace & Extend trick on all of us by cooperating with several of the leading open-source supporting companies.
Which brings us back to Sun Microsystems and their latest move. One issue I have with the F/L OSS community, and I mentioned it breifly on my Nat Friedman rant, is that – and its understandable human behavior – once a single project gets enough mind-share in the developer community, all other competing projects are effectively marginalised. Take for example – lighttpd. How many people reading this blog recognize the name ? I would expect most of my readers to have some technical expertise, maybe due to the fact that I’m writing mostly about technology, but still I expect that few have heard about this free software project which creates one of the major open source web servers, but everyone have heard about Apache.
In a discussion I had with a co-worker today, and regarding a rumor about Open Solaris possibly being released under the GPL, we discussed the possible effects on Linux would Sun’s Solaris OS have been released under a really free license (and not the CDDL sad joke or whatever they call it) five to ten years earlier. I believe that in such a case, Solaris – with a large community mind-share still, and more so at that time – would have made life very very difficult for Linux, probably about as much grief as Linux has caused GNU Hurd – another promising open source project that have been marginalized by a larger (in the eyes of the community) competitor.
Sun blew that option a long time ago – but are they’re trying to get back in the game? Sun have been giving away the “Standard Edition” Java VM and SDK for free (as in “for no money”) for a long time now, and a bit more recently, other products in their Java range. They’ve been pressed for releasing the source for Java for a long time and until now have deflected such pleas quite effectively using various methods such as the so called “Java Research License” and the “Java Distributor License”, all the while claiming that Java is indeed open-source. What is so pressing now that they “gave up” and went with the GPL? I suggest that its part of an ingenious marketing plan to corner the JVM market, which is just starting to be filled with open source implementations, with GNU’s Java compiler getting so close to have a complete implementation, Apache starting their Harmony project and – going out on a limb here – maybe IBM, the biggest open source proponent around, opening up their own Java implementation? At this strategic point in time, Sun – owning the unarguably most important JVM implementation currently – is maybe about to lose a lot if operating systems start to distribute a JVM out-of-the-box, but not Sun’s.
Before its too late, they drop the bomb. Having the option of going with the – yet incomplete – GNU Compiler for Java, the – still on the drawing board – Apache Harmony or some other under-developed Java implementation, I know what Linux, BSD or other free operating system distributions are going to choose. With their new – and highly anticipated – GPL licensed Java implementation, Sun is going to gather tons of community mind-share. Developers, integrators and packagers are going to flock to integrate Sun’s Java into all kinds of products; People who have been working with GCJ for various reasons – probably the non-GPLed nature of Sun’s as one of the major reason – are going to abandon it, leaving another GNU project to rot in the shadow of a simpler, less sophisticated and less future-proof competitor.
While Sun’s adoption of the most important open source license today is indeed very good news for the community in general, I’m thinking that for the alternative Java implementation developer, be it of the GNU or the Apache crowd, these are very disturbing news indeed.