Opening Up: Laurie Tolson on Open Source Strategy for the Java Platform

By Jim Inscore, August 2006  

On Monday, August 14, Sun Microsystems invited a group of editors and analysts to an update on the status of its plans to open source the Java platform. Rich Green, Executive Vice President for Software, who announced Sun's intention to open source its implementations of the Java platform at the 2006 JavaOne Conference in May, was joined by Laurie Tolson, VP of Developer Products and Programs, and Alan Brenner, VP of Client Systems Group. They talked about open-sourcing the JDK, Sun's implementation of the Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE) and also Sun's implementation of the Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME). Mark Reinhold, Chief Engineer for Java SE posted a recap of the event in San Francisco in his blog. Simon Phipps, Sun's Chief Open Source Officer, updated press and analysts over breakfast in London just hours after guests left the event in California.

We sat down with Laurie Tolson to get an update on Sun's plans:

question Jim: Where is Sun in the process of open sourcing the code for Sun's Java platform implementations? When can developers expect to see the code released?

answer Laurie: Sun will release several significant components of Java SE by the end of 2006. We don't know exactly which ones yet, but the javac bytecode compiler and the HotSpot Virtual Machine –among other things– are on the table. The rest of a buildable JDK will be released in early 2007. In addition, Sun plans to open source implementations of the Java ME platform (both CLDC and CDC). We intend to roll this out by the end of 2006. Most importantly, we're not doing this in isolation. We want to learn from successful open source projects how best to go about this.

Developers who are interested in Sun's open source plans for the JDK should check out the brand new area on where they can also join the discussion in a new forum.

question Jim: What license are you planning to use?

answer Laurie: Picking a license is a complex decision and Sun is actively requesting input from both open source experts and Java technology developers. We haven't determined which license we will use at this time but we do know that it will be an OSI-approved license. Java technology has many stakeholders: individual developers, corporations, licensees, ISVs and users - balancing their needs will mean compromises.

question Jim: What experience does Sun have with open source?

answer Laurie: Sun has a long history both as an open source community member and with open source software. As a company, sharing and participation are some of our core values and we are committed to open source as a core element of our business model.

As Rich noted in his remarks, the Solaris Operating System is based on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD, sometimes called Berkeley UNIX). Sun has also contributed to projects like the Network File System (NFS), GNOME, Mozilla,, and Perl. In fact, some GNU/Linux users may be surprised by the extent to which they are dependent on Sun contributions, both historic and current.

In addition, Sun has released a long list of products and technologies under open source licenses and helped to create open source communities around projects such as OpenSolaris, NetBeans, and Project GlassFish. We're fortunate to be able to draw on the experience of our colleagues who have been involved with these, and other projects, that Sun has opened to their respective communities.

question Jim: Will all of the JDK be open sourced?

answer Laurie: Yes, however there may be parts of the platform that will initially be available to developers in binary form if they contain encumbered code. The Java SE code base contains about 6 million lines of code and there are a few encumbrances which we intend to work through with the assistance of the community as quickly as possible.

question Jim: How is open sourcing the JDK good for Sun's customers?

answer Laurie: As we open source the JDK, we see a number of critical advantages to customers, including:

  • More ports to an even broader set of hardware and software platforms
  • More innovation and higher quality as new eyes look at the code and contribute enhancements
  • An even healthier Java technology ecosystem, with more opportunities for developers, more competition and choice for deployers, and continued long-term protection of IT investments.
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