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Java Developer : Article

"Let's Bundle Free Java with Linux," Says IBM's Sutor

"Let's Bundle Free Java with Linux," Says IBM's Sutor

"If you could get every Linux distribution with an official, certified Java implementation where you could count on what it did, what its characteristics were, that would be a very powerful thing," said IBM's Bob Sutor last week, as a follow-up to Sun's dismissal - as "bonky" - of his suggestion that IBM and Sun should team up on open-sourcing Java.

When asked who would provide such a Linux-Java distribution, Sutor replied that this was precisely one of the things IBM wants to talk to Sun about.

Sutor disagrees with Sun's Jonathan Schwartz that Java would fork just as Linux has done, if open-sourced. He thinks that the "forking" argument is, as he puts it, "overstated." He even threw Schwartz's "bonky" characterization back in his face, saying that the market is capable of deciding for itself:

"Yes, there are different Linux distributions, but there are main distributions, and the kernel tends to be very consistent. If you're doing 'bonky' things then the market will reject them very quickly, you have to give the market, and the customers, credit."

Bundling open-source Java with Linux distros would create a compelling OS platform that would help to further boost Java's standing in the market, in Sutor's view. Plus such an implementation could also benefit "from the combined expertise of each Java vendor."

"IBM does some things better than others, maybe others do some things better than IBM," Sutor conceded. "If we could pool our collective resources and arrive at the best possible common implementation that is widely available, it would mean we could put fewer resources on this."

The week will doubtless bring a response from Sun and indeed from other Java vendors.

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Most Recent Comments
Maynard 03/10/04 05:14:59 PM EST

Why? They already gave the community Eclipse, and they do provide a lot of information on their webstie about devloping for Linux and so on.

Laura D 03/09/04 01:10:07 PM EST

IBM is just messing around with Sun and Java.
Open sourcing Java would be the beginning of end-of-life for Java.
"IBM does some things better than others" - yes bonky things. (example: SWT)
Java is already free, why do anybody want it open source?

umeshphirke 03/08/04 08:18:01 PM EST

How about IBM giving WebSphere giving to the open source community

Randy Poznan 03/08/04 05:15:07 PM EST

This is more of the AWT vs SWT saga between Sun and IBM. Ibm wants SWT and probably other technology added to Java and would like a open source way to do this. Sun doesnt want to lose control over what goes into standard API's and they hate SWT. My wish list for Sun would be to support every OS/hardware platform where there is demand. OpenBSD FreeBSD and sparc/linux etc. Also I have a feeling that someday if Java was GNU based OS utilities, shells, Daemons, and Servers could be written in Java. These would be immune from the type of bugs that C/C++ programs face.

CallMeIshmael 03/08/04 02:33:00 PM EST

Do we see massive forking of programming languages that ship standard with Linux today such as C++ or Perl? Why or why not? How can this similar experience help with Java?

Gorath99 03/08/04 08:57:00 AM EST

I really hope this works out. Not because "free as in beer" isn't good enough for me (it is), but because it'll help focus the Java community.

We want Java's greatest supporters on one line, so they can face the growing competition of C# instead of bickering among themselves about whose VM/Gui toolkit/IDE/Compiler is the best.

Getting an OSS Java is just a nice bonus.

javaxman 03/08/04 08:56:03 AM EST

IBM has maybe made more money from Java than Sun has...

There's also a great deal of ambiguity here as to what the heck might be open sourced. Does it mean there'll just be one open-source implementation which will be tested against the Java Compatability Kit for free, and other commercial ventures will have to continue licensing from Sun? Does it mean that not-for-profit ventures can get a copy of the JCK free? What would the license be like?

A big part of the problem here is that one of the strong points of Java is having a standard API with expected behaviors across all platforms. What Sun will ( and should ) *not* allow is some arrangement where I can grab the source, add some random API or change some existing API behavior to something non-compliant with the JCK, then release it as "x-man Java" or something. That would be very, very bad, and very likely kill Java.

Archangel 03/08/04 08:53:25 AM EST

Sun has publicly said they will talk to IBM about this. This doesn't amount to agreeing to do that which is proposed - open-sourcing java.

What they HAVE basically said is "We have officially turned to look at the road that may lead to an open source Java". This isn't the first step on the road to Sun being involved in an open source Java. But it's the precursor to that step, so I think anyone interested in Java will take note.

Just my 2c

David Mohring 03/08/04 08:52:14 AM EST

Just the Java J2ME,J2SE,J2EE Libraries

It would benefit the entire Java based industy, including the free software, open source and proprietary based vendors, to open license the core J2ME,J2SE,J2EE libaries and Java to bytecode compilers.

Java's primary strength, the ability to write code which is constantly portable across many vendors platforms, would be greatly enhanced if all of vendors were using the same core libaries.

To insure that the standard base core would not become polluted with incompatable forks, the source could be licensed with a clause requiring any incompatable changes or any additional classes or methords to be moved to and occupy only the vendors namespace. Another clause would require that the vendor version of Java bytecode compiler and any GUI IDE defaults to generating portable bytecode, without embedding any vendor specific references.

Contributions to the core standard would be required to licensed under the same open source license. The existing JCP standard body could decide what becomes part of the Open Java Core.

It should not be necessary to open source license Sun's JVMs. In the long run it could greatly benefit Sun to develop the JVM under a dual license as it doing with and selling StarOffice.

[first posted to

njcoder 03/08/04 08:23:51 AM EST

There are open source versions of Java. The problem is, as they are now, they are no where near as good as the "commercial" implementations. Begging Sun to open source Java is pretty much an admission that the open source community cannot develop on its own something as good as what Sun has developed.

Java is a very popular language. Look at the statistics, more people are using Java than most other free languages such as Perl and PHP. More companies are looking for people with Java experience rather than other languages as well including Python.

What Sun should do is get rid of some of the stupid things in their license.

What IBM might consider sponsoring Debian in some way so that a highly optimized Java platform can be developed for Debian. SUSE has licensed the source from Sun for this very purpose. With debian gaining ground in the server market this would be a great thing to have.

I mention debian because of its popularity and its commitment to being free. If there could be a way to make Java free for cetrain things like free linux without making it free for everyone that would be great, but I don't think that is possible.

shirov 03/08/04 08:21:34 AM EST

I think the big advantage(s) of "open sourcing" Java will be seen when things such as the mess with the logging API''s and the use of the assert keyword are avoided.

qotra 03/08/04 08:03:52 AM EST

I use Debian, and generally speaking, if it isn't free enough for Debian, it isn't free enough for me. Beyond my hatred for the lack of JRE in the main unstable tree (which is really annoying), there is also an ethical ideal of truly free software that is being violated by Java.

Many people believe RMS is too hardcore about sticking to his guns on this issue, but I do believe he has a good point. Many programs are "free" for temporary use, and Java is one of them. Other examples of superficially free software are Windows Media Player and Adobe Acrobat, for which there are no guarantees of future freedom. These programs, like Java, introduce standards and structure that other people build on. If the freedom of these platforms was to be compromised, many poeple could stand to lose a great deal of work. The only way to guarantee the possibility of future support is to open source it.

NotFree 03/08/04 08:02:58 AM EST

It is NOT free enough because it cannot come by default with linux distros. License states that third parties cannot distribute Java Development Kit. It will be free enough for me when I can do:

apt-get install j2sdk-1.4.2

Now it is not. Of course having source available and having the right to modify and distribute your own version (e.g. optimized for athlon or modified to conform to debian-standards) of Java would be a HUGE bonus, but it is not THAT necessary.

BenBenBen 03/08/04 08:01:47 AM EST

As Schwartz says, the question -- or the worry -- is more around how to prevent somebody from forking Java and kill the "Write Once, Run Everywhere" idiom.

BaronAaron 03/08/04 08:00:51 AM EST

Any fork from the Java specifications would simply not be Java anymore.

I would imagine Sun would act as a gatekeeper if Java went open source. Anything code that breaks compatibility would not be included in the "offical" Java feed.

TheRaven64 03/08/04 07:59:49 AM EST

Actually, an Apache style license would be better. With the GPL, Microsoft could copy the core VM, remove a few classes, and add* packages in large numbers that did not reference any GPL''d code directly, which would result in an incompatible implementation (they probably wouldn''t, since they''re ignoring Java completely in favour of .NET at the moment). Worse, another open source group could fork the project and change the behaviour of some of the core classes, making an incompatible implementation (which would still be bound by the GPL). If this implementation gained even a 5% market share it would be a problem.
With an Apache-style license, companies like Apple could incorporate the Java implementation into their OS, but would not be able to call it Java if they made any changes to the source. Sun (and possibly IBM) could then charge for performing compliance testing on a particular implementation, and allow use of the Java trademark to any implementation which passed the tests.

JPriest 03/08/04 07:59:07 AM EST

Maybe if they chose GPL we could have as many JVM''s as we do Linux distros.

leomekenkamp 03/08/04 07:58:36 AM EST

One problem: Sun successfully challenged MS in a court of law because MS ''polluted'' Java by putting incompatible stuff in java.lang and similar packages. You cannot (under the current Sun Java license) distribute any Sun Java stuff if you do that.

If Sun were to place Java under the GPL Microsoft could pull the same trick, and this time get away with it, thereby successfully polluting Java in such a way that a lot of developers will develop for MS-Java only.

gusmao 03/08/04 07:57:07 AM EST

The question is not whether someone will or will not turn java down because it is not free, but how much more wildly adopted and improved the language and the VM can become.

Futurepower 03/08/04 07:56:28 AM EST

One thing that needs to be said is that this is worth millions of dollars in free publicity for IBM. There are many programmers who, before IBM started supporting Open Source, would not have considered working for IBM.

I''m not saying that IBM is asking for Java to be open source because of publicity. But that support has a wonderful side-effect for the company.

It''s great to have a large organization like IBM that can use its voice to do something that has long been needed. The world needs better GUI support for Java.

JavaCre 03/08/04 07:55:12 AM EST

For my needs and preferences, Java is "free enough". Anyone who ever has turned Java down in favor of something else, because it is not free?