Open Letter to Sun from Eric Raymond

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Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell
Nov. 22, 2004 09:22 AM

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Recently, Jonathan Schwartz made some comments comparing the JCP development process to the 'Bazaar' that Eric Raymond wrote about in his now famous O'Reilly publication, The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Schwartz felt that many in the Linux community were frustrated with their inability to influence the code that gets adopted into Linux. "They don't get a vote", he said, adding that the process for getting changes into Linux "seems awfully cathedral-like as opposed to the bazaar of the JCP."

Of course, Eric Raymond, in his usual style, pulled no punches in his reply. His response took the form of this open letter to Sun:

Subject: Java is not a bazaar

Jonathan Schwartz of Sun recently claimed that Sun's Java is developed more in the mode of the bazaar than Linux is. To quote him: "They don't get a vote, That seems awfully cathedral-like as opposed to the bazaar of the JCP." As the author of the cathedral/bazaar metaphor, I think I can address this claim with some authority.

The essence of the bazaar is not voting -- a concept I never mentioned in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and don't endorse -- but the right to fork. Anyone who doesn't like Linus's decisions about Linux can fork the codebase, start his own effort, and compete for developer and user attention on a legally equal footing. *That* is the essence of the bazaar.

Sun can vapor on about voting and committees all it wants, but at the end of the day JCP is still a single point of control, the Java reference implementation and class libraries are under a proprietary license, and nobody can legally fork them. As long as that continues to be the case, Java will be firmly stuck in cathedral-land and any claim otherwise will be disingenuous crap.

Sun has broadcast its intention to open-source Solaris, and I take Sun at its word on this. According to report, they're planning throwing Solaris open for all the right reasons, and I applaud them for it.

Therefore, rather than blowing smoke about the bazaar model, I think Mr. Schwartz's time would be better spent explaining why he thinks those reasons don't apply to Java -- epecially when IBM's intention to release a fully open-source JRE and class libraries within the next year or so is about the worst-kept secret in the industry. IBM executives scarcely even bother to deny this any more.

I don't dispute Sun's privilege to make whatever business decisions it thinks it needs to. They wrote Java, and they have the moral right to set any licensing terms they choose on it. I will defend them against anybody who claims they are in any way *obligated* to open-source Java. When you pay the piper, you get to call the tune.

But any time they try to use *my* work to justify retaining proprietary control or argue that Linux is somehow less open than Java, that's either culpable stupidity or dishonesty and they should expect to get kicked in the teeth for it by the entire open-source community, starting with me.

Eric S. Raymond

Kevin Bedell is a software professional with over 15 years of experience doing development, architecture and team lead work, is Editor in Chief of LinuxWorld Magazine, and is working on a book for O'Reilly on Apache Axis.