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Simple Is Better

By Frank Hayes
November 20, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Simple. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind about the news that Sun Microsystems has turned Java into open-source software. There are no new custom software licenses involved, no complicated deals, no funky motives, no dark rumblings of conspiracy. It’s as if Sun simply pointed to Linux and said, “See that one? That’s what Java will be like.”

It’s especially simple compared with the murky, muddled FUD-fest that was Microsoft and Novell’s announcement about their Linux collaboration. That still has the open-source crowd up in arms.

And that simplicity is good news for Sun and Java — and for IT.

It’s easy to understand how Sun could open-source Java. The company has run out of ideas for wringing money out of it. Java no longer generates the buzz it did a decade ago, Sun has never struck oil in the Java development tools market, and the once-looming threat of Microsoft or Hewlett-Packard hijacking Java is long gone.

Put simply, Java is obsolete as a product for Sun, even though it’s still very useful to the rest of us. With the stakes now so low for Sun, the company can afford to declare victory and walk away from the table.

It’s what Sun didn’t do that’s remarkable. Sun spent years battling to maintain control of Java. There was the three-year lawsuit with Microsoft over changes Microsoft made to how Java worked on Windows — followed by another Java-related antitrust suit against Microsoft. There were Sun’s previous efforts to be open-source-ish in its own way — the Java Community Process, the Sun Public License and the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

Anyone knowing that history would have expected Sun to open-source Java on Sun’s own terms — say, with a CDDL license, some kind of specialized terms for use, maybe a few intellectual property strings still attached.

Amazingly, Sun didn’t do any of that. The Java open-source license is identical to the Linux license. No specialized terms. No strings. Nothing new. Sun actually did keep it simple.

And to make things simple for people who were already using Java under the previous CDDL license, Sun kept that license, too.

And while the open-source army will get its crack at coming up with new ideas and improvements, Sun will keep a hand in to prevent Java from forking.

In sum, the biggest immediate impact on corporate IT of open-source Java is ... no impact at all. Nothing to adjust to. Nothing to run past the lawyers. For IT, operationally, it means nothing.

Now that’s simple. That’s the way we like it.

Compare that with the Linux announcement that Microsoft and Novell made recently. It’s tough to parse, because nobody’s admitting exactly how and why the deal was done. But it seems Novell gets some much-needed cash, the two companies will work together to make Linux more Windows-compatible somehow, and Micro¿soft promises not to sue SUSE Linux users for patent infringement (which Novell says Microsoft couldn’t do anyway), at least until Microsoft cancels the agreement.

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