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Open Source is Big News at JavaOne

by Daniel H. Steinberg
04/02/2002

In her keynote address that kicked off this year's JavaOne, Pat Sueltz, Sun Microsystems' Executive V.P. and General Manager, Software Systems Group, promised that this year's conference would have more substance and less smoke than in recent years. By and large, this was the case. The vendors at the BOF (Birds of a Feather) and Technical sessions were more focused on technology and on addressing developers. Sessions that mentioned Web Services tended to attract the largest audiences this year, but there was a wide variety of high quality offerings. In the pavillion, traffic was down, but the decrease in the number of swag seekers meant that qualified prospects had a chance to get their questions heard and answered.

For the most part, Sun restricted their marketing to the keynotes. Despite small announcements here or there, there wasn't a lot of technology-oriented news. Sure, Sun referred to JSR (Java Specification Request) 172 on Web Services standards for J2ME clients, along with a few other JAX (Java APIs for XML) Pack and Web Services JSRs. In addition to demos of enterprise and wireless applications, Sun highlighted desktop applications during the various keynotes. The technical keynotes previewed what's to come in the next releases of J2EE 1.4 and J2SE 1.4.1, and those to come later in J2SE 1.5. Although the slides showed J2EE being released later this year, the Sun presenters talked about the release as coming early next year.

The biggest news of this year's JavaOne was delivered Tuesday morning by Jason Hunter, an Apache Software Foundation vice president, co-creator of JDOM, and author of the popular O'Reilly Servlets book. Flanked by Sun CEO Scott McNeally and Sun vice president Rob Gingell, Hunter outlined an agreement negotiated between Sun and Apache that has broad-ranging implications to developers and to the future of Java itself. First, all in-progress and future Sun-led Java Specification Requests (JSRs) will be made available under a license that allows for open source.

In addition, key JSRs that have already been released will have their license altered to this newer, more open license. Even JSRs not being led by Sun can release their reference implementations under an open source license. Finally, Test Compatibility Kits (TCKs) for Sun-led JSRs will be made available for free to qualifying open source and academic groups.

There is a further important implication of Sun's statement that "Sun will modify the specification licenses of all the JSRs currently in progress to reflect Apache's requirements as met in the new draft JSPA." The JSPA is the legal agreement signed by members when they join the Java Community Process. Hunter points out that the draft JSPA includes the requirement that the TCK be licensed separately from the Reference Implementation (RI). In the past, commercial interests, which used to have to license the RI and TCK together, were bound by some interesting legal issues by having the RI source. Under the new agreement, they can now pay just for the TCK. This will help JBoss, for example, which can't get the TCK because it's currently only provided with the RI; they can't see the RI and remain independent.

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In a later conversation with Hunter, he explained that the "goal is to get legal issues out of the way so that people can write great software and release it under the license they choose." The agreement has not yet been finalized. Although optimistic that the details can be worked out, Hunter will remain vigilant until, as he puts it, "the ball is actually over the goal line." He adds that he knows "Sun has put a lot of work into the agreement and appears sincere on executing the plan, but much work remains."

Daniel H. Steinberg is the editor for the new series of Mac Developer titles for the Pragmatic Programmers. He writes feature articles for Apple's ADC web site and is a regular contributor to Mac Devcenter. He has presented at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, MacWorld, MacHack and other Mac developer conferences.


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